BEIJING (REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AFP) - Power forward Luis Scola scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, as Argentina breezed past France 80-66 to book their place in Sunday’s (Sept 15) basketball World Cup final against Spain.
France blew the tournament wide open by beating favourites and reigning champions the United States in the quarter-finals. But they never got going on Friday (Sept 13) as centre Rudy Gobert struggled and shots from beyond the arc would not drop for them.
In the afternoon's first semi-final, Australia were left to rue a missed opportunity at the end of regulation time, as man-of-the-match Marc Gasol inspired Spain to a 95-88 double overtime victory.
The Boomers led by 11 in the third quarter, but were overtaken in the final 10 seconds before Patty Mills, the undoubted star of the Boomers' campaign, was sent to the line with 4.7 seconds left on the clock.
Spain, ranked second in the world, led 71-70 but Mills could only land the first of two free-throws.
Had the San Antonio Spurs point guard sunk the second, Australia would have reached their first World Cup final - and secured their first world or Olympic medal.
As it was, despite nothing being able to separate the teams in the first extra period in Beijing, Spain pulled away in the second, and Andrej Lemanis' side will have to play in the early tip-off on Sunday for a bronze medal. In the final, either Spain or Argentina will win their second World Cup gold.
In the second semi-final, Frank Ntilikina top-scored for the French with 16 points and Louis Labeyrie added eight off the bench, but all too often they left open lanes to the basket for the aggressive Argentine attack to exploit.
Scola made the most of their defensive lapses, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and he went on to hit three of four three-pointers and make nine of 10 free throws over the course of the game in a dominant offensive performance.
Argentina’s smothering defence limited Gobert’s opportunities inside and forced France into a succession of three-pointers, but they could only hit seven of their 31 long-range shots on the night.
Toronto Raptors star Gasol top scored for Spain with 33 points, plus six rebounds and four assists, after stepping up late in a breathtaking game when his country needed him most.
"We came back, we stuck together through tough times, that means a lot," said the 34-year-old, a three-time NBA All-Star.
He played a key role in the Raptors' historic run to the National Basketball Association crown and knows that victory on Sunday will cap the perfect season.
"It's been great, I have been very fortunate," he said. "I knew that it would not be easy physically (going from the NBA Finals to the World Cup) but it's definitely worth it.
"Not because of the final but passing along those values to the team. It's our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation (of the Spain team)."
Ricky Rubio was also pivotal once more for Spain with 19 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
Mills had 34 points for Australia, including four from 11 three-pointers, while Nic Kay was next best with 16 points for the Boomers.
They missed shots at big moments, while regular turnovers also helped Spain stay close despite shooting just 31 per cent in the first half.
A tough foul on Andrew Bogut, eerily similar to events in Rio when Spain pipped Australia by one point to win Olympic bronze, will also sting the Australians as they maintain their search for a maiden international medal.