Spanish duo keys rout of Lithuania

by Jack Gallagher

SAITAMA — Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro combined for 47 points and Spain routed Lithuania 89-67 in their quarterfinal game at the FIBA World Championship on Tuesday at Saitama Super Arena.

Gasol, 212-cm center, put on a fine display of grace and athleticism in the win, which earned Spain a semifinal matchup against the victor in Tuesday’s second game between Argentina and Turkey on Friday.

Running the court with speed of a player much smaller, the Barcelona native also showed off his dexterity and soft touch, using both hands to score inside near the basket. He even threw one pass backward over his head to a teammate.

Gasol tallied a game-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the victory, while shooting guard Navarro contributed 22 points as Spain led wire-to-wire for its 15th consecutive win in international competition.

Spain coach Pepu Hernandez was clearly enthused with the result.

“I am pretty happy, because the team played a real good game,” he said. “I think we showed that in a few minutes that they (Lithuania) couldn’t get into the game. It is real special to get to this place (the semifinals).”

Hernandez cited his team’s combined effort following the win.

“I can’t talk about one or two players,” he said. “Our team was the one which can beat another team.”

The Spaniards, who played a 2-3 zone and featured a muscular frontline, began pulling away from Lithuania late in the first quarter when it started a 15-0 run that was punctuated with a spectacular play.

With just less than 30 seconds left in the first quarter, point guard Sergio Rodriguez lofted a sweet lob pass to Rudy Fernandez, who cut to the hoop, caught the ball in midflight, and threw down a two-handed reverse dunk that had the crowd roaring.

Navarro had 10 points for Spain — the first-place finisher in Group B — in the opening period as it finished with a 28-11 lead.

Lithuania battled back, however, reeling off 10 straight points early in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 32-21.

But the comeback was shortlived as Spain stopped the run and took a 47-30 lead into halftime.

The second half featured more of the same, with the Spaniards continuing to dominate and boosting their advantage to 23 points, at 65-42, after three quarters.

Navarro was satisfied with his effort after struggling in Spain’s second-round win over Serbia and Montenegro.

“I came out very eager, with a lot of will to play the game,” he said. “This was one of those good night’s for me. We imposed our rhythm, that didn’t allow them to get into the game at any point.”

Darius Lavrinovic paced Lithuania with 17 points, while Linas Kleiza added 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Lithuania coach Antanas Sireika bemoaned his team’s lack of focus in the loss.

“We did not prepare mentally for this game,” he said. “You can’t make 28 turnovers against a team like Spain and expect to get away with it.”

Forward Mindaugas Zukauskas concurred with his coach’s analysis.

“They (Spain) deserved to win,” he said. “They played better basketball. They were better in all parts of the game.”

Lithuania shot 47 percent from the field (to Spain’s 42 percent), but was outscored by 19 points (22-3) from the free-throw line in the defeat.