Argentina, the surprise team of the FIBA World Cup, has reached the final with a stunning win against France, 80-66. The victory means Argentina is headed to the championship round -- a place it has not been since 2002 -- to face Spain (which defeated Australia earlier on Friday).
Former NBA player Luis Scola delivered once again for Argentina, notching 28 points and 13 rebounds, sealing the deal with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions down the stretch.
Gabriel Deck scored 13 points and Facundo Campazzo added 12 for Argentina, a team with no active NBA players on its roster and still made its first gold-medal game in Olympic or World Cup play since the 2004 Athens Games. And when he made his way to the locker room, Scola was greeted by chants of “M-V-P” from teammates.
He corrected them with a smile: “MBP,” he said. “Most Beautiful Player.”
Indeed, on the court the 39-year-old’s game is still very much a thing of beauty. Showing no signs of fatigue, he played 34 of the 40 minutes and saved his best for the very end.
“Luis told us before every game, including today, that we can win -- that we are a tough, tough team to beat,” Argentina center Tayavek Gallizzi said. “Just focus on our game. It’s incredible. At his age he is playing better than all the younger guys.”
France, which ousted the United States Men's National Team from medal-round play in the quarterfinals, struggled on offense all game. It shot just 39% overall and was particularly bad from 3-point range (7 for 31, 23%). Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert, the two stars who powered France past Team USA two days earlier, struggled against Argentina as Fournier had 16 points (on 6 for 17 shooting) and Gobert was held to three points (although he added 11 rebounds).
“From the first to the last minute, it was complete domination,” Gobert said, tipping his cap to Argentina.
Both semifinal winners got two days off after their quarterfinal victories. Australia and France both played their quarterfinals on Wednesday, and France coach Vincent Collet said he thought that was a factor.
“I didn’t want to find any excuse, but I think so,” said Collet, who cancelled practice Thursday because of his team’s travel demands. “For me, it’s not fair that one team has two days to recover and prepare even if they don’t know the first day who will be the opponent. They know it’ll be one or the other, so they can prepare for both.”
Argentina put together an early 10-0 run to take the lead, and kept it the rest of the way. A 15-point lead got cut to single digits for much of the fourth, when Scola’s back-to-back 3s clinched the outcome.
“It was a great game for us,” Campazzo said.
France and Argentina last met in the 2006 FIBA World Cup, which Argentina won 80-70. The loss gives France an 0-4 record against Argentina in World Cup play and keeps it from reaching its first-ever World Cup final. Argentina is looking to win the FIBA World Cup for the first time since 1950.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.