By Simon Wilkinson
Turning point: Spain pretty much dominated from start to finish so there was no turning point as such. The Spaniards though did send a strong message of intent when, late in the third quarter, France guard Nando de Colo thought he had an easy fast break lay-up only for Marc Gasol to appear out of nowhere and swat the ball into the crowd.
Hero: Rudy Fernandez. His three three-pointers in the first quarter got Spain rolling and they rode that momentum until the end.
Stats: Tony Parker, who came into the game averaging 18 points a game, was held to just six points on one of eight from the field.
Spain got off to a quick start and never looked back as they crushed France 86-66 to book their place in the semi-finals of EuroBasket 2009 in Katowice.
Pau Gasol had a stellar performance, going for 28 points, nine rebounds and three blocks - all game highs - as the
world champions handed the French their first defeat of the tournament.
|It was a frustrating night for Tony Parker, who managed just one field goal.|
Afterwards, Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo praised his team's much-improved fitness as the reason why his team ran France ragged.
"Our physical condition is so much different that we can now work however we want to," he said. "We beat an excellent team. They have heart and pride and never gave up."
Alex Mumbru pointed to the Spaniards' mindset from the tip-off as the reason for such a big win.
"We were very focused from the start. We played at a high tempo and now we are in the semi-finals which is where we want to be," he said.
Spain hit five of nine three-pointers to take a 25-15 lead by the end of the first quarter and the closest France never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Rudy Fernandez buried three of his four attempts from beyond the arc and Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro hit one each for a 21-12 advantage.
The Spaniards were also doing an excellent job defensively forcing France into turning the ball over six times and putting the shackles on Tony Parker, who was held to a tournament-low of six points, 12 below his average.
Pau Gasol made a lay-up with 47.6 seconds left in the first quarter for a 23-12 score and their first double-digit lead of the night.
Vincent Collet's charges got within 27-19 on four quick points by Ali Traore, but Spain then made the most of their opponents' 11 first-half turnovers, getting seven steals which led to seven fast break points.
Antoine Diot's pass was stolen by Mumbru who went the other way for an easy lay-up and a 31-19 advantage.
Ball handling wasn't France's only downfall as they failed to box out and were being manhandled in the paint. Mumbru got better position inside of a blue crowd for an offensive rebound to make it 37-21.
Pau Gasol then got the better of his match-up with Florent Pietrus. The Spanish center used some of his fancy footwork to get around his defender. He also had an emphatic reverse dunk over the entire French defense that brought cheers from the crowd. Navarro then hit a runner in the last minute of the half for a 47-32 lead at the break.
Spain picked up where they left off in the third quarter, with Rubio scoring five quick points early to put Spain up 55-38.
France made somewhat of a charge, cutting the deficit to 62-49 on Traore's jumper, but that just motivated Spain to tighten their defense furthermore as they held them to just three points the rest of that period.
Nando de Colo tried a finger roll in transition but saw his shot swatted into the stands by Marc Gasol who then made a pair of free-throws at the other end, giving Spain their first lead of 20, 69-49, with 1:13 to go in the period.
Up 73-52 to start the final frame, Spain let their guard down temporarily, allowing their opponents to get within 77-66 on Antoine Diot's three-pointer with 4:55 left to play.
Fernandez then made a lay-up and Pau Gasol scored four quick points to put the game to bed.
Afterwards, France's Boris Diaw admitted that chasing the game was always going to be hard against a talented team like Spain.
"We just got behind them and they are a great team. So once you get behind them, they're not going to let you back in," he said.
"We can't get a medal but we can qualify for the world championship next year."
Collet knew Spain would be tough to beat after seeing them raise their level of play over the last few games.
"I think they dominated the game from the beginning and never let us come back," he said. "After showing improvement in the last two or three games, they made us fall back. We had problems moving and swinging the ball against their defense. We had problems finding solutions. In the second half we got down to 11 but they were too good for us."
Ronny Turiaf was France's only player to score in double-digits with 12 points.