FOSHAN, CHINA – Serbia made a ruthless start to its FIBA World Cup title bid, thrashing Angola 105-59 in the opening match of the tournament on Saturday.
Serbia, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, was the strong favorite against Angola and wasted no time stamping its mark on the 32-team World Cup.
The United States, which has named a young 12-man roster, opens its defense on Sunday in Shanghai against the Czech Republic.
The Americans are without the likes of LeBron James, but Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic said that Gregg Popovich’s team — which is still packed with NBA talent — remain the team to beat in China.
“I am not thinking about the USA team,” said Djordjevic, whose team was the runner-up at the 2014 World Cup. “I do respect them, I think they are the biggest favorites.
“They don’t have some of the players but they still have a great, great team with great players, great coach.”
Serbia guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who plays for the Sacramento Kings, led the way with 24 points against the wilting Angolans.
Nikola Jokic, the lumbering Denver Nuggets All-Star who is key to Serbia’s chances, scored his team’s 100th point with a free throw on the way to him racking up 14 points.
Bogdanovic was 8-for-10 from the floor in the Group D game.
The lead was 50-32 at the half, and Serbia — which has made clear that it came to this World Cup believing it can win gold — opened the third quarter on a 15-2 burst to turn the game into a runaway.
“It’s a good start,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said. “But it’s just the start. It’s a long way. We know how to get to where we want to be. We just have to stay humble, stay focused.”
Jokic and Nikola Milutinov each had 14 for the winners, and Boban Marjanovic added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jokic was 3 of 3 from 3-point range, and Serbia went 13-for-20 from long range.
Serbia was comfortably ahead 50-32 at halftime and rammed home its handsome advantage in the second half against Angola.
“Serious game, serious approach, serious preparation,” said the stern Djordjevic.
“It’s our trademark all these years — playing together, we like to share the ball, we like to pass, we have a lot of guys who are not selfish.
“This is really great for a coach, I’m proud when I see that, it’s the trademark of Serbian basketball.”
Carlos Morais scored 15 for Angola, which was outrebounded 41-19 and shot only 36 percent. Leonel Paulo scored 10 for Angola; take the combined 10 for 18 shooting by Morais and Paulo away, and the rest of the Angolan lineup shot a mere 11 for 41 — 27 percent.
“We didn’t play the style of play consistently enough to have a chance to compete with them,” said Angola coach Will Voigt, a native of Cabot, Vermont.
Angola center Yanick Moreira was less diplomatic.
“We got our (butt) kicked. That’s it,” Moreira said. “I’m sorry about my language, but I don’t want to embarrass my country. When you come to the World Cup, you’ve got to be ready to play.”
Serbia used 11 of its 12 players by the end of the first quarter. The only Serbian who didn’t play was Nemanja Bjelica, sidelined with what Djordjevic said was knee inflammation caused by a cyst. Bjelica will be re-evaluated on Sunday.
Puerto Rico 83, Iran 81
In Guangzhou, David Huertas scored 32 points, Javier Mojica’s bank shot with 0.7 seconds left was the game-winner and Puerto Rico prevailed despite being down by 17 with 7:55 remaining.
Gary Browne scored 12 for Puerto Rico in the Group C opener for both teams.
Hamed Haddadi and Behnam Yakhchalidehkordi each scored 22 for Iran.
Huertas tied the game with a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left, then made another 3 with 16.1 ticks remaining for a 3-point lead. Haddadi made a deep 3 from the right wing with 4.4 seconds left, but Mojica took an inbounds pass on the ensuing Puerto Rico possession and connected from the left side of the lane for the deciding points.
Poland 80, Venezuela 69
In Beijing, Poland got its first World Cup win in 52 years.
Michal Sokolowski scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Poland — back in the World Cup for the first time since 1967 — topped Venezuela in a Group A opener for both teams. Mateusz Ponitka scored 15 for the winners, and Poland finished with five players in double figures.
“We played to our identity, really good team basketball,” Poland coach Mike Taylor said.
Pedro Chourio scored 15 for Venezuela.
Russia 82, Nigeria 77
In Wuhan, Russia rallied in the final minutes to hold off upset-minded Nigeria and get what may be a key win in Group B.
Mikhail Kulagin led the Russians with 16 points. Nigeria had six players in double figures, led by 18 from Josh Okogie. His 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter put Nigeria up 71-63, but the Russians ended the game on a 19-6 run.
Group E: Turkey vs. Japan, Czech Republic vs. United States
Group F: New Zealand vs. Brazil, Greece vs. Montenegro
Group G: Dominican Republic vs. Jordan, France vs. Germany
Group H: Canada vs. Australia, Senegal vs. Lithuania
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5