Rigaudeau may be key for France

22.09.2005

By Simon Wilkinson

Tony Parker made the headlines after breaking his bad run of games in France's shock upset of Serbia & Montenegro, but veteran Antoine Rigaudeau made the biggest impact for Les Bleus in Tuesday's triumph.

Rigaudeau, the French captain who came out of international retirement last year at the behest of coach Claude Bergeaud, was inserted into the starting line-up ahead of Parker against Serbia & Montenegro and the move paid dividends.

The point guard poured in 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists in the 74-71 win.

France twice trailed by as many as nine points in the second half but fought back to win.

it really was a miracle for us to beat Serbia & Montenegro in Novi Sad
Antoine Rigaudeau

"Our strength was not to give up," Rigaudeau said after arriving in Belgrade the following day ahead of the quarter-final round.

"At one point, we were down by as many as 14 points (in the first half), but we kept playing, kept fighting until the end without really thinking about the score."

Rigaudeau, who led France to a silver medal at the Olympics in 2000, scored five points early on to avoid letting Serbia & Montenegro run away with the game from the start.

He did prove to be a liablity on defence with opposing guards Igor Rakocevic and Marco Jaric combining to score 16 first quarter points.

Bergeaud switched to a zone defence several times and used Mickael Pietrus and Boris Diaw on the host nation's ballhandlers and let Rigaudeau chase shooters like Vlado Scepanovic and Milan Gurovic.

Rigaudeau also had to deal with some foul trouble which kept him off the court for a good portion of the second quarter.

Still, he made himself useful, exhorting his team-mates on time and time again and helping Parker, who came to the bench with a frustrated look during a time-out following three straight turnovers.

The French trailed 44-35 at half-time but came out fighting after the restart and Rigaudeau landed some of the blows.

He had a steal and lay-up and a three-pointer early to ignite a 9-0 run which tied the game at 44-44.

Though he didn't score again until he made the second of two free throws in the closing seconds of the game to give France a three-point lead and the eventual final score of 74-71, he always kept the troops motivated.

Looking back on the tournament so far, Rigaudeau knows his team have made mistakes but he is confident they can improve.

"Our weakness until that game was not to be able to keep that rhythm for a full 40 minutes," he said.

"Our opponents knew they would beat us because at one point we were bound to let the game slip out of our hands.

"That's sort of what happened during our warm-up games and in our group games. It's also the truth of French basketball history as a whole, which has had to deal with this inability of closing out games.

"Hopefully, though, we can change that ourselves now. We'll see what happens over the next few days."

Rigaudeau firmly believes the team can get to the podium.

"I'll admit that it really was a miracle for us to beat Serbia & Montenegro in Novi Sad," he said. "But that doesn't mean the tournament ends here, quite the contrary.

"In this sport, anything can change from one day to the next and Tuesday was a perfect example of that. So if a team bases itself on that, the won't go very far

"So I think we need not get carried away, but let's not start being scared either. We'll hang in there for a full 40 minutes again and play with what we have.

"We'll have to try and bother them as much as possible because this upcoming game will prove to be a very tough one.

"We're going up against the defending European Champions (in the quarter-finals). The Lithuanians are great athletes - tall, physical, who can run the court and possess good shooting skills. Basically they have all the qualities that make great basketball players.

"They have some young players who obviously want to do well, who are hungry and need to prove to everyone that they can defend their title even without their best players. So we know this is going to be a very tough game."

Rigaudeau's role against Lithuania could be much the same as it was against Serbia & Montenegro, as Lithuania play a tall line-up, even in their backcourt.

The role the captain plays will be left up to Bergeaud.

The experiment of having Parker come off the bench as a sparkplug worked against Serbia & Montenegro, and for that reason, should be repeated against an equally - if not better - Lithuanian side.

Whatever Bergeaud has in store for Rigaudeau, expect him to be ready.


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