By David Hein
World champions Spain shook off their last-second loss to Croatia by dismantling defending champions Greece 76-58 to remain well in the race for the 2007 EuroBasket title in Group E.
Rudy Fernandez paced the tournament hosts with 20 points while Pau Gasol added 15 points, five rebounds and five assists and Felipe Reyes chipped in 10 points as Spain again cruised past Greece, who lost 70-47 in the final of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
"I’m really happy because of the great job of the team. I’m happy with the tightness in our defense. We had a great team effort defensively and that helped us get out on the fast-
break," said Spanish coach Pepu Hernandez, whose team shot 49% from the floor and held Greece to 38% shooting, including just six-of-25 (24%) from beyond the three-point arc.
|Theo Papaloukas and Greece struggled to get their offense going Friday night.|
Rudy Fernandez commented; "We were able to control the rebounds during the game and we were particularly accurate with the perimeter players."
"We were able to control the tempo for most of the game. They played up-tempo for a bit but we slowed them down. I think we owe the win to our good defense," said Fernandez.
"Everyone contributes, everyone plays his role and that’s why we are here. That’s why we were able to beat Greece."
Spain, who improved to 2-1 with the victory, faced a must-win situation after falling to Croatia 85-84 in the final game of Group B in the preliminary round.
As did the Greeks, who dropped to 1-2 after their second straight loss.
Both teams started cold offensively as Dimitrios Diamantidis opened the scoring on a driving lay-up after three minutes had been played.
Carlos Jimenez came back down and drained a three-pointer for the Spaniards.
While Jimenez kick-started the hosts, the Greeks' offensive problems continued as they failed to score on four straight possessions, allowing the Spanish to pull ahead 10-2.
Juan Carlos Navarro entered the tournament for the first time with 4:17 remaining, finally shaking off the abductor injury which forced him to miss the first three games.
Navarro buried two foul shots and a three-pointer after a technical foul on Greek coach Panagiotis Yannakis and two free throws by Rudy Fernandez gave Spain their first 10-point lead - 21-11 - with two minutes to play in the first, which ended with Pepu Hernandez's side ahead 23-15.
The Spaniards continued to work hard on defense and held Greece scoreless for the first 4:10 of the second period until Nikolaos Chatzivrettas's three-point play to make it 28-18.
But the Greeks were still unable to snap out of their funk as Spain ended the first half on a 9-0 run for a 45-24 advantage going into the break.
Konstantinos Tsartsaris opened the second half with a three-pointer, but the Greeks' inability to knock down the long-range shots killed any chances of coming back.
Spain led 56-39 after three periods and watched Greece close the gap to 12 points - 56-44 - on Theodoros Papaloukas's jumper with 6:41 to play.
Pau Gasol knocked down two foul shots and Benni Rodriguez hit a break-away lay-up to re-establish a 16-point advantage just 30 seconds later.
The Greeks were unable to get closer than 15 the rest of the way and next face a do-or-die match on Sunday against Croatia.
Giannakis said his team failed to find consistency in their game: "First half, Spain took advantage of our mistakes. In the second half we tried to make something happen. We cut the deficit but we made more mistakes and that was the key. I think we can play better if we have a clearer idea of what we want to do. Our first-half performance was what made the difference."
The Spaniards look to continue their push towards the quarter-finals with a tough showdown with undefeated Russia.