Despite a cascade of turnovers, a rebuilt Greek national team shocked favored Argentina, 79-71 in the final group game at the World Cup Basketball Championship in Spain to go 5-0.
Argentina was ranked third in the world to Greece’s fifth but the Greek squad has been refashioned after many of its veteran stars retired, were hurt or didn’t want to play.
The play so far has been a remarkable turnaround from last year when Greece finished 11th in the European championships and lucked out to even get a bid for the world tourney.
Greece advanced into the round of 16 where it will play a tough Serbian team on Sept. 7 while Argentina, which finished at 3-2 in the group, draws a tough rival, Brazil. Greece and Argentina will meet again if both win their quarter-final games.
Greece ran out to a 28-16 first quarter lead and led 44-33 at the half before Argentina spurted in the third period to whittle down the lead before the Greek team, throwing the ball all over the court and playing Matador defense – waving while the Argentinians rushed to the hoop – composed itself again.
Ahead 64-50 at the start of the final quarter, Greece came unglued and the Argentinians roared back with an 18-6 run to close within two at 70-68 before a couple of clutch hoops on the Greek side kept them at bay.
A critical technical foul on Greek center Giannis Bouroussis, who slammed a ball into a sideline table, gave Argentina four easy points. But Bouroussis, who outplayed his heralded opponent Luis Scola, came back with a gritty basket just when Greece needed it most.
Bouroussis had 16 points and 15 rebounds but early on it was the play of Florida’s Nick Calathes, a ball-handling player who became a shooter and kept Greece together that provided the early impetus. Calathes finished with 18 points to lead the team.