By Kevin Anselmo
After 46 years, the French basketball team can finally return home from a EuroBasket with some hardware.
Tony Parker was magnificent with 25 points and five assists, Mickael Pietrus added 23 and France crushed Spain 98-63 to win bronze at the 2005 EuroBasket and bring home the country´s first medal in the competition since 1959.
France won their sixth EuroBasket medal overall, five of which are bronze, and broke a streak of 22 medal-less appearances.
“This is a great step for French basketball,” said Parker. “People will now stop saying we can´t win anything.”
“This is an historical day for French basketball since we didn't win a medal since 1959,” added head coach Claude Bergeaud. “We won some medals with the youth national team, but we had a problem showing our best with the senior team.”
|Florent Pietrus |
Les Bleus dominated the third quarter to take control of the game and Spain self-destructed to put the game out of reach. Up eight to start the second half, France opened the third on an 11-4 run to take a 55-40 lead and open up their biggest lead of the game at 15. Parker sparked the spurt by scoring seven points with a three-pointer to go along with two driving lay-ups.
Spain started to unravel and show their frustration midway through the third when Jose Calderon was whistled for a technical foul for kicking the advertising board surrounding the court after not getting a foul call. Florent Pietrus hit the technical free throws and France went up 59-43.
A little more than a minute later and in between a Mickael Pietrus three-pointer, Juan Carlos Navarro was called for a technical foul for complaining to the officials. Florent Pietrus hit one of two free technical free throws and Parker´s driving lay-up put the French in total command with a 65-43 lead with 3:12 remaining in the third.
The Pietrus brothers put an exclamation point on the third with two dunks in the final minute of the quarter and France led 75-54 going into the fourth.
“After halftime, my team was physcally down, ” said Spanish head coach Mario Pesquera. “We couldn´t stop them anymore – they were just too athletic.”
For the quarter, France outscored Spain 31-18.
France continued to pour it on the fourth and the crowd applauded as France´s starters began coming out of the game with under two minutes to go.
Frederic Fauthoux, who had logged just five minutes entering play today, hit a three with three seconds to go and received high-fives and hugs from his team-mates, who moments later celebrated their medal achievement.
“We have to continue this pace to the next World Championship,” said Gelabale. “We digested what happened earlier in the tournament and played our best game tonight.”
Despite suffering heart-breaking one-point losses the night before, both teams opened up the first quarter shooting 50% and Spain´s Fran Vazquez´s hit a three as time expired in the quarter to tie the game at 21.
France outscored Spain 14-4 though the first six minutes of the second quarter and took a 44-36 advantage into the halftime locker room. The quarter concluded on a alley oop from Antoine Rigadeau to Gelabale.
Known in EuroBasket for defensive low-scoring basketball, France played a more up-tempo game, resulting in four fast-break electrifying dunks on the other end. The French also dominated down-low with a 46-16 points in the paint edge.
Their 44 points in the first half matched their highest total for EuroBasket 2005 and their 98 for the game was also a team best.
Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus each contributed 13 for the victors.
Navarro, who entered today´s play as the leading scorer in EuroBasket with 26 a game, was held to 17. Jorge Garbajosa finished with 12 and Carlos Jimenez had 10.
Spain failed to medal in EuroBasket for the first time since 1997 after having claimed the silver in 1999 and 2003 and the bronze in 2001.
Although France came up short in their quest for gold following a disappointing loss to Greece last night, Parker takes many positives from EuroBasket 2005 in comparision to the team´s fourth place finish in 2003.
“We made a mistake two years ago when we lost the semi-finals to Lithuania and we didn't come ready for bronze medal game against Italy,” said Parker. “This time we didn´t.”