Argentina eases into Round of 16

by Jack Gallagher

SENDAI — Walter Hermann came off the bench to score 25 points and grab nine rebounds as Argentina routed Venezuela 96-54 for its third straight victory in Group A at the FIBA World Championship on Monday afternoon.

News photoWalter Hermann of Argentina attempts a shot on the basket as Venezuela’s Gregory Vallenilla and Yumerving Mijares look on during Group A action on Monday in Sendai. Argentina won 96-54.
AP PHOTO

The win moved Argentina into the second round of the tournament, which begins on Aug. 26 in Saitama.

The loss dropped Venezuela to 1-2.

Forward Luis Scola scored 17 points — all in the first half — for the defending Olympic champions, who shot 56 percent from the field.

Once again Argentina (3-0) displayed superior ball movement as it rolled to its third straight double-digit triumph. The Argentines have a flow to their game that exudes confidence and illustrates the familiarity the players have with one another.

Coach Sergio Hernandez had the luxury of having to play only one starter — center Fabricio Oberto — more than 17 minutes.

“I am really happy because our team played with intensity,” said Hernandez. “Many people in Argentina got up early to watch this game (on TV), so we wanted to put on our best performance.”

One play highlighted the teamwork and discipline of the Olympic champions.

With 15.7 seconds remaining in the first quarter, after Venezuela had missed a shot and Argentina had corralled the rebound, Hernandez called timeout to set up a play for the final shot.

Argentina inbounded the ball and moved it around to Carlos Delfino on the left side. The swingman made a nice move to free himself up, then pumped in a 3-pointer just before the horn sounded to give his team an 18-10 lead.

Star Manu Ginobili played sparingly in the win for Argentina, scoring five points and seeing just 16 minutes of action in the one-sided affair.

“This victory gives us a lot of confidence,” said Ginobili. “Now we know that we are through, we are going for more. We want to be the champions, and if we don’t make it we will be disappointed.”

Argentina led 39-21 at the half and never looked back.

Forward Andres Nocioni, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, went down with a sprained ankle for Argentina with 6:55 left in the third quarter and did not return to the game. Hernandez said that Nocioni was “fine” and is expected to play against Nigeria on Wednesday.

Argentina’s lead ballooned to 74-38 after three quarters.

Hermann, who plays for Malaga in the Spanish League, scored seven straight points late in the fourth quarter as Argentina took a 50-point lead at 94-44.

“I think this win was based on defense, which we came out playing tough from the start,” said Hermann, who also led Argentina in scoring in Sunday’s win over Lebanon.

Center Richard Lugo scored 17 points and had a game-high 10 rebounds for Venezuela, which shot just 27 percent from the field, in the defeat.

Venezuela coach Nestor Salazar praised his South American opponents for their performance. “We played against a perfect team this afternoon. They showed why they are Olympic champions.”

Meanwhile, defending world champion Serbia-Montenegro, which dropped its first two games, finally got in the win column with a 104-57 decision over Lebanon in the day’s second contest.

Center Darko Milicic, who plays for the Orlando Magic, and had struggled in his nation’s two losses, registered a game-high 20 points in the victory.

Power forward Ognjen Askrabic added 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds for Serbia-Montenegro, which shot 63 percent from the field, in the win.

Coach Dragan Sakota acknowledged that his team was in a must-win situation if it wanted to have a chance to advance to the second round.

“This was a very important win for us,” he said. “We knew we could play at a higher level than we did in the first two games, but we had to show it.”

France defeated Nigeria 64-53 in a defensive battle in the night game to improve to 2-1.