By Jeff Taylor
Turning point: Spain had a 15-point first quarter lead and it was 24 points late in the first half before Serbia went on a 15-6 run in the third quarter to trim the margin to 58-44. But Spain answered with a 9-0 surge to re-establish domination of the contest.
Hero: Pau Gasol was unstoppable inside for the Spaniards as he out-rebounded Serbia by himself 8-7 in the first half. The star center dominated the paint at both ends.
Stats: Spain out-rebounded Serbia 44-23, including 18 offensive rebounds, while committing just nine turnovers and holding Serbia to 6 of 19 from long range.
Spain tore apart Serbia 85-63 to capture their first-ever EuroBasket gold medal in Katowice, Poland on Sunday night.
World champions in 2006, silver-medal winners at EuroBasket 2007 in Madrid and runners-up to Team USA at last year's Olympics, the Spanish underlined their status as the dominant side on the continent.
They will travel to Turkey next year for the FIBA World Championship as one of the gold-medal favorites.
|On Sunday Juan Carlos Navarro finally got to hoist the EuroBasket trophy.|
Pau Gasol, who won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in June, finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds and also blocked three shots - all game-highs.
"This is an amazing feeling," said the seven-footer, who was voted MVP of the EuroBasket.
"It's been an unbelievable year for me - first the NBA title and now a gold medal at the EuroBasket, something that we had never achieved before.
"We have played great and we truly deserve to enjoy this."
Serbia had won the first meeting between the two sides, 66-57, on opening night in Warsaw and they were sky high after edging Slovenia in overtime to reach the final.
Their coach, Dusan Ivkovic, had led the former Yugoslavia to three gold medals in as many finals.
But Spain entered the contest red hot, riding a four-game winning streak and they delivered a first-half knockout with a couple of decisive scoring surges.
With the game knotted at 5-5, Ricky Rubio buried a three-pointer right in front of the Spanish bench to ignite a 15-2 run.
Six different players contributed points in that scoring burst.
Serbia dug in their heels and fought back, twice reducing the deficit to eight points.
A Novica Velickovic jump shot closed the gap to 24-16 at the start of the second quarter and, after Marc Gasol tapped in Felipe Reyes' miss for Spain, Ivan Paunic and Velickovic each split a pair of free-throws to make it 26-18.
However, that proved to be as close as Ivkovic's team would get.
Led by Gasol, Spain blew the game wide open.
Spain answered with an electrifying 9-0 spurt that began when Raul Lopez penetrated into the lane and lofted an alley-oop pass that Pau Gasol grabbed with both hands to dunk.
After Rudy Fernandez made a pair of free-throws, he scored on a fast break and Reyes also scored in transition for a 34-18 lead.
Following two Uros Tripkovic free-throws, Spain grabbed a stranglehold on the game. Gasol, who missed two foul shots, made amends quickly when catching an alley-oop pass from Navarro and dunking again.
Rubio went to the charity stripe and made both attempts before Gasol scored down low for a commanding 40-20 advantage.
The final blow in the first half came after a Milos Teodosic three-pointer for Serbia with six seconds remaining.
Jorge Garbajosa quickly grabbed the ball and hurled a pass up the floor to a streaking Gasol who laid the ball in
right before the buzzer for a 52-29 lead.
|Milos Teodosic struggled, scoring only five points, but was named to the All-Tournament team.|
Serbia closed the gap to 58-44 with 3:22 to go in the third quarter, but Rudy Fernandez had two baskets on fastbreaks to spark a 9-0 run and take a 67-44 advantage heading into the final frame.
Kosta Perovic cut the deficit to 21 but Carlos Cabezas answered with a three-pointer and Serbia got no closer than 22 points the rest of the way. Spain's lead grew to 29 midway through the period.
Serbia did not win the gold medal yet they went much further than anyone expected and the disappointment was quickly forgotten.
"It was important for us to bring respectability back to Serbian basketball after what happened two years ago. We did that at this tournament," said Perovic.
Milenko Tepic predicted a bright future for this young Serbian team.
"Today was a tough game for us. We were still tired from last night's win over Slovenia. But the future is bright for us. We were the youngest team here and that means we will have a lot of time in years to come."
Pau's younger brother Marc thought Spain's success was that much sweeter as they had their share of troubles in the tournament.
"We struggled in this tournament, but that makes the gold medal even better," he said.