Bodiroga Rallies Yugoslavia Past Argentina for Title

Dejan Bodiroga hoists the world championship trophy after rallying Yugoslavia past Argentina in overtime on Sunday in Conseco Fieldhouse.
(Peter Bick/2002worldbasketball.com)

Indianapolis, Sept. 8 - Others had risen to the moment in previous games. With the world championship on the line, Yugoslavia turned to its best, and Dejan Bodiroga delivered.

Bodiroga scored nine consecutive points in the final 2:16 of regulation to rally Yugoslavia from an eight-point deficit to its fifth gold medal in the World Basketball Championship with an 84-77 overtime victory over Argentina on Sunday evening in Conseco Fieldhouse.

"Dejan gave us life back," said Vlade Divac.

Averaging a modest 11 points in the first eight games, Bodiroga racked up 27 in the final, including 16 in the fourth quarter. With Yugoslavia trailing 74-66 he simply took over the game, breaking Argentina's enormous spirit in the process.

"Today was my opportunity to show leadership like Vlade (Divac), Peja (Stojakovic), (Milan) Gurovic had shown in earlier games," said Bodiroga. "Today it was my chance. I'm proud that we were able to play our best when it counted the most."

Argentina missed its last 12 field goal attempts, including all nine in overtime, but still had a chance to win in regulation. Vlade Divac missed two free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining and Hugo Sconochini drove the length of the floor but his layup spun out as the bench erupted in protest that Marko Jaric had fouled him. When no whistle blew, Argentina's players seemed to lose their focus, and Yugoslavia took advantage.

"I think we suffered a very big shock, considering we practically had the winning doors open for us," said Argentina coach Ruben Magnano. "We did not have the sufficiency to overcome that."

Stojakovic, who scored 26 points, hit a 3-pointer to give Yugoslavia a 78-75 lead, then Bodiroga made a pair of free throws with 2:16 left. Argentina's Fabricio Oberto, who played a magnificent game inside with 28 points and 10 rebounds, made two free throws to cut the deficit to 80-77 with 45 seconds remaining and, after Ruben Wolkowysky blocked Divac's shot, Argentina had one last shot.

Without its star player to rely upon - Emanuel Ginobili played 12 ineffective minutes limping on an ankle sprained in the semifinals on Saturday - Argentina turned to reserve Alejandro Montecchia, who missed a tying 3-pointer, and that was the game.

Yugoslavia rallied from a poor start to the tournament, losing to Puerto Rico and Spain, to assert itself with victories in its final five games. Argentina won every game but the last.

"I feel so bad for Argentina," said Divac, who was 1-of-10 from the field in what he said would be his last game with the Yugoslavian national team. "They played an excellent game. I'm sure they'll be back to fight for a gold medal again."

Argentina opened the second half with a 14-2 run to build a 53-43 lead, but Yugoslavia cut the deficit in half by the end of the third period to set up the dramatic finish.

Luis Scola and Wolkowyski each scored 11 for Argentina, which enjoyed its best finish since taking the gold medal in the first WBC in 1950. Leandro Palladino scored 10. Ginobili failed to score.

"Fortunately, Ginobili was able to play in the world championship," said Magnano. "Unfortunately, he did not win."