AP Story

France easily knocks off Poland, reaches EuroBasket title game

0 Comments

BERLIN — France sent a message on its way to grabbing a spot in the EuroBasket championship game.

Former Celtic Guerschon Yabusele scored 22 points, and France rolled past Poland 95-54 in the semifinals of the European championships on Friday.

“We just played our basketball,” Yabusele said. “We were really good on defense and we were really aggressive. We made everything hard for them.”

The 41-point margin was the largest ever in a EuroBasket medal-round game played under the current tournament format, one more than 40-point wins posted by Croatia over Greece in the 1993 bronze-medal game and by the Soviet Union over Poland in the 1967 semifinals.

Elle Okobo and Evan Fournier each had 10 points in a rare easy one for France, which had outscored opponents by a total of 11 points in its first seven games of the tournament – plus won each of its last two contests in overtime, benefitting in both from missed free throws in the final moments by Turkey and Italy.

“We started the game with will and determination,” France coach Vincent Collet said. “That is what made the difference.”

Next up for France: either Spain or host Germany, which were meeting in the late semifinal on Friday. The gold- and bronze-medal games are Sunday.

“We worked really hard to put ourselves in this position,” said France center Rudy Gobert, who had six rebounds and three blocks. “Now we’ve got one more game to go. When we started preparations, the goal was to win the gold medal and now we’re in position to make it happen. So, one more game.”

Playing for gold represents the latest big chance for France, which captured its last major crown by winning EuroBasket in 2013. Since then, the French have won two bronzes at the World Cup (2014, 2019), a bronze at EuroBasket (2015) and silver at the delayed Tokyo Olympics that were contested in the summer of 2021.

Every stat Friday showed France’s dominance. It shot 62%, compared with 32% for Poland. France held a 40-21 edge in rebounding, a 22-9 edge in points off turnovers and a 40-16 advantage from points in the paint.

“Like a lot of games in this tournament, it could go south, it could go north,” Poland coach Igor Milicic said. “This game went south.”

A.J. Slaughter and Michal Michalak led Poland – which made the semifinals by upsetting defending champion Slovenia 90-87 on Wednesday – with nine points apiece. It was Poland’s third loss of the tournament, all coming in blowouts. The others were a 30-point defeat to Finland and a 29-point loss to Serbia in the group stage.

“We tip our hats off to France,” said Slaughter, a Kentucky-born guard who helped Western Kentucky to upset wins as a No. 12 seed in both the 2008 and 2009 NCAA tournaments. “They played a really good game tonight. … But we still have our heads high. We still have a medal game on Sunday. We’ll come back, play with pride and see if we can leave here with a medal.”

Luka Doncic, Slovenia upset by Poland, eliminated from EuroBasket

0 Comments

BERLIN — Luka Doncic and Slovenia roared back from a 23-point deficit, and looked as if they were well on their way to a berth in the EuroBasket semifinals.

Poland had other ideas — and in an absolute shocker, EuroBasket will have a new champion.

Mateusz Ponitka had 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, and Poland beat Slovenia 90-87 to move into the semifinals of the European championships for the first time since 1971.

Vlatko Cancar led Slovenia with 21 points, and Goran Dragic scored 17.

Doncic was held to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, though he added 11 rebounds and seven assists.

The Dallas Mavericks star needed an injection to get through the game and has been dealing with injuries throughout the tournament, he said.

“But that’s not the reason,” Doncic said. “Today I played terrible. I let my team down. I let the whole country who was supporting us down. I’ve got to look at this game and be better.”

Poland led by 23 late in the second quarter and carried a 58-39 lead into halftime, but Slovenia got within one with a 24-6 run in the third quarter.

Dragic scored to start the fourth and put Slovenia on top, and the lead was 73-68 on a jumper by Klemen Prepelic with 6:58 left.

Poland outscored Slovenia 21-7 over the next six minutes, and held on in the final seconds.

A.J. Slaughter and Michal Sokolowski each scored 16 for Poland, which got 14 from Jaroslaw Zyskowski and 11 from Aleksander Balcerowski.

“Amazing,” Sokolowski said. “And now we can’t stop. … We dreamed about a medal at the beginning. Right now it’s closer, but we don’t have it yet. I want to reach it.”

France rallies thanks to 19 from Gobert, beats Italy to reach EuroBasket semifinals

0 Comments

BERLIN — France pulled off a wild rally at the end of regulation, then carried that momentum into a spot in the EuroBasket semifinals.

Thomas Heurtel scored 20 points, Rudy Gobert had 19 points and 14 rebounds, and France found a way to get past Italy 93-85 in a quarterfinal game on Wednesday.

France was down by seven with 1:59 left in regulation, and that was when it started on what became a 25-10 run to finish the contest.

It was France’s second consecutive fourth-quarter rally and overtime win, after needing the same formula to get past Turkey in the round of 16 on Saturday.

“I don’t really believe in luck,” Gobert said. “Tonight, we could have given up, once again, but we got the baskets we needed.”

Next up for France: either defending champion Slovenia, or Poland, on Friday for a berth in the title game. The Slovenia-Poland quarterfinal matchup was later Wednesday.

The other half of the semifinal bracket was set Tuesday: Germany will play Spain, also on Friday.

Gobert started the game-ending burst with a dunk to get his team within 75-70.

Italy had a chance to potentially seal the game with 16 seconds left, up by two, but Simone Fontecchio missed a pair of free throws. It was another eerie resemblance to Saturday, when Cedi Osman, with Turkey up by two, missed two free throws with 12.2 seconds left to extend France’s hopes.

Heurtel’s layup tied the game with 5.2 seconds left in regulation. France trailed only once in overtime, for just 23 seconds, and Evan Fournier‘s floater with 3:29 left put his team ahead for good.

Fournier scored 17 for France, which got 15 from Guerschon Yabusele and 13 from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

“Congratulations to France,” Italy coach Gianmarco Pozzecco said. “They never gave up.”

Fontecchio and Marco Spissu each had 21 points for Italy, which was seeking its first trip to the EuroBasket semifinals since winning bronze in 2003.

Luigi Datome scored 12 and Nicolo Melli added 10 for Italy, which trailed by as many as 11 in the early going but outscored France 31-18 in the third quarter and led by as many as eight early in the fourth.

“What can I say? Very painful, of course,” Datome said. “Very, very painful. But I’m so proud of my teammates.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected, Greece follows as Germany knocks them out of EuroBasket

0 Comments

BERLIN — Giannis Antetokounmpo got ejected, and Greece’s hopes of bringing home a European championship ended not long afterward.

Germany, meanwhile, is taking full advantage of its home-court edge.

Dennis Schroder scored 26 points, Daniel Theis had a 13-point, 16-rebound effort and host Germany moved into the EuroBasket semifinals with a 107-96 win over Greece on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo had a monster game for Greece — 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. But he also picked up two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, the last of those leading to his ejection with 4:56 left.

Greece was down by 14 when he committed his second such foul, and Germany maintained full control the rest of the way.

Germany now has a chance at what would be just its second medal in its last 13 appearances at EuroBasket. The Germans won the European title in 1993 and were second in 2005; assured of no worse than fourth now, this tournament will mark their best EuroBasket finish since that silver-medal showing.

“I think this is unbelievable for German basketball, the way this team, the way these players have performed on their home soil up to now,” Germany coach Gordie Herbert said. “I think the way they’ve played, the way we’ve played, people can relate to. They see an identity.”

Greece and Serbia were the only two teams that made it through the group stage of EuroBasket with unbeaten records, both 5-0 and led by a pair of two-time NBA MVPs – Antetokounmpo for Greece, Nikola Jokic for Serbia.

Then came the knockout stage, and the records no longer mattered. Serbia and Jokic were ousted in the round of 16 by Italy; Antetokounmpo and Greece are now gone as well.

“We really enjoyed the ride,” Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said. “We really enjoyed the journey. I think that we made a lot of people proud with the way that this team performs. We wanted to go more, but it didn’t happen this time.”

Giannoulis Larentzakis scored 18 points on only five shot attempts for Greece; he was 5 for 5 from the field, four of those from 3-point range, and was 4 for 6 from the foul line. Tyler Dorsey added 13 for Greece.

Franz Wagner and Andreas Obst had 19 points apiece for Germany, which plays Spain in Friday’s semifinals.

“It was a really physical game,” Wagner said. “A lot of points. We found our rhythm really early and I think we did a way better job collectively guarding them in the second half.”

Sun confident in defense, ability to take series despite Game 1 loss to Aces in WNBA Finals

2022 WNBA Finals - Game One
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

LAS VEGAS — The Connecticut Sun might be down one game in the WNBA Finals after losing their first series opener of the postseason, but they haven’t lost confidence thanks to a stringent defensive effort in Game 1.

The Sun did what they hoped to do, holding the league’s No. 1 offense well below its season average. The top-seeded Las Vegas Aces averaged 90.4 points per game during the regular season and were scoring a playoff-best 92.3 per contest heading into the championship round.

On Sunday, the Sun held Las Vegas to its lowest point total of the postseason in the 67-64 loss, and Connecticut took confidence from that performance as it prepares for Tuesday’s Game 2.

“I mean, after this game, we have to have a lot of confidence,” forward Alyssa Thomas said. “I mean, this is a three-point game and we had a chance to tie. I think we are very confident and we know that all you need is one, and then there’s two games at our place. So yeah, there’s some things we can clean up. Of course, we can make more shots, but overall we played a hard game.”

Hard enough that Las Vegas shot just 39.7% from the floor, including 20.8% rom 3-point range — both playoff lows.

In fact, the 67 points were the fewest Las Vegas scored all season, while there were only four other times the Aces shot worse from the floor, and one other time their long-range shooting was worse.

“They play so hard the entire game,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “That team is relentless, and so you can never let your foot off the gas.”

Which is what the Aces learned after building their biggest lead of the game in the first quarter, a 21-9 advantage that they slowly squandered as Connecticut turned the pace in its favor.

The Sun imposed their defensive will in the second quarter, opening the period on a 13-4 run to take a 30-29 lead while frustrating Las Vegas by blocking passing lanes, limiting space for league MVP A’ja Wilson and keeping the Aces away from the glass.

“As the game settled in, we found rhythms to get consecutive stops,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Our defense settled in and got to our pillars, got to the game plan, and started to get the type of game that we feel we need in order to be successful.”

The problem for the Sun was they weren’t able to convert on several possessions, missing ample opportunities with shots they might normally make and that would have allowed them to create some separation going into halftime, rather than a four-point lead that could have easily been double digits.

“We came out, we played hard, and unfortunately they hit more shots than us and we didn’t get stops in a timely manner,” Thomas said. “But there’s a Game 2, and we will watch the video and be prepared for the next game.”