WUHAN, CHINA – Spain produced a devastating late burst to seal a 67-60 victory over Italy and squeeze into the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals on Friday — and take strongly fancied Serbia with it.
Also into the last eight in China are surprise package Poland and Argentina after they overcame Russia and Venezuela, respectively.
Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets led the scoring for Spain with 16 points, but the world’s second-ranked team will have to play better offensively if it is to go much farther in the competition.
Italy’s 60 points was its lowest-scoring game since 1998, according to FIBA, and Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said: “Everyone should give credit to what our players did defensively.
“It says a lot about our togetherness, toughness, commitment.
“It was not our best offensive game, but I give a lot of value to what my players did defensively.”
Scariolo admitted that the 2016 Rio Olympic bronze medalists started sloppily in what was an occasionally testy second-round affair against their European rivals.
The teams were level 18-18 after the first quarter, only for the Italians to edge ahead by a single point at halftime.
Spain was a different proposition for most of the third quarter, but saw its initial decent advantage narrowed to just two points going into the fourth.
Italy, ranked 13th, was the underdogs but it refused to lie down and tied it 50-50 on a Marco Belinelli layup.
The Italians streaked into a four-point lead with four minutes left, as the pressure cranked up another notch.
But Spain and Ricky Rubio were not done, the Phoenix Suns guard getting the freedom of the court to edge ahead by two points once more.
The 28-year-old was increasingly influential when he was needed most.
He made two unerring free throws for a precious 60-56 lead, part of a game-winning 10-0 run for the Spaniards in the closing stages.