Final Four Bound! Hernangómez, Batum Both Reach FIBA World Cup Semifinals

by Sam Perley

On Tuesday morning, Hornets center Willy Hernangómez and the Spanish National Team knocked off Poland, 90-78, for their sixth win in as many outings at the FIBA World Cup and advanced to the competition’s semifinal stage for the first time since 2006.

Twenty-four hours later, Charlotte teammate Nicolas Batum and the French squad pulled off one of FIBA’s biggest upsets in recent memory by defeating the United States, 89-79, to book their own ticket to the semifinals. The outcome snapped a 58-game winning streak for the USA with NBA players, which dated back to a loss to Greece at the 2006 World Cup.

Spain will now face Australia on Friday, Sept. 13 starting at 4 AM EST and France will battle Argentina at 8 AM EST, both games of which will take place in Beijing, China. The two losers will duke it out for bronze on Sunday morning at 4 AM EST and the winners square off for the title at 8 AM EST.

Hernangómez is coming off a sensational 18-point outing in the team’s win over Poland, matching his best single-game scoring output at any major international competition. For the tournament, the 25-year-old is averaging 7.5 PPG on 58.1% shooting, 4.0 RPG and 1.3 APG in six games off the bench. Phoenix guard Ricky Rubio (15.3 PPG and 5.5 APG) and Toronto center Marc Gasol (11.3) are currently leading Spain in scoring.

Batum is averaging 7.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.0 APG and 1.2 BPG over five appearances and recently became the country’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup play. Orlando guard Evan Fournier is pacing Les Bleus in scoring (21.0 PPG; T-4th at World Cup) and two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz is averaging 12.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG (4th at World Cup) and 2.3 BPG (2nd).

Spain’s next opponent – Australia – owns an identical 6-0 record and boasts the tournament’s third-leading scorer in San Antonio guard Patty Mills (22.2 PPG). Recently-acquired Phoenix center Aron Baynes has sneakily been one of the competition’s most efficient and versatile players with averages of 13.3 PPG on 58.5% shooting (8-of-15 from 3P), 5.8 RPG and 2.2 APG.

Argentina’s roster features 10-year NBA veteran forward Luís Scola, who is leading the team in both scoring (17.8 PPG) and rebounding (7.3). Real Madrid point guard and two-time EuroLeague champion Facundo Campazzo is putting up 13.8 PPG and ranks third at the World Cup in assists (8.0) and ninth in steals (1.8).

Both Spain and France are eyeing their second-ever World Cup medals; the former won gold in 2006 and the latter won bronze in 2014. Two members of this current Spanish squad – Gasol and Rudy Fernández – were on that championship-winning team 13 years ago (both are now 34), while Batum, Fournier and Gobert held spots on the French roster a half-decade back.

Australia had never before reached the World Cup semifinals and at the moment, doesn’t own a single major international tournament medal. The Argentines’ most recent top-four World Cup finish came in 2006, four years after they won silver at the competition and two years after they famously upset the United States and claimed gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

By outlasting all the other European teams at the World Cup, Spain and France have also both automatically qualified for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The Spaniards have now reached all but one of the last 11 Olympiads, winning medals at each of the last three (two silvers, one bronze), while the French notch their third straight berth after finishing sixth in both London and Rio de Janeiro.


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