BEIJING (Reuters) – Australia and France reached the basketball World Cup quarter-finals with a match to spare after tight wins over their respective rivals while holders the United States edged closer to the last eight with the 69-53 defeat of Greece on Saturday.
The Czech Republic also boosted their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the competition with an impressive 93-71 victory over Brazil thanks to an effervescent performance by their Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky.
Australia overcame a strong challenge from the Dominican Republic in an 82-76 win over the Caribbean nation while France ground out a dramatic 78-75 victory against Lithuania.
The Americans enjoyed plain sailing although Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season’s most valuable player in the NBA regular season, made a bright start as he netted seven of Greece’s opening nine points.
A steely defence by the U.S. forced the Greeks to take a barrage of difficult perimeter shots while the champions took advantage of their athleticism at the other end of the court.
The U.S. had six players in double scoring digits, with Kemba Walker leading the way on 17 points. Harrison Barnes got 15 and Myles Turner added 14 while Jaylen Brown, Joe Harris and Donovan Mitchell chipped in with 11 each.
France produced three perfect quarters against Lithuania but almost spilled a 16-point lead in the final period as the Baltic nation, roared on by a vociferous band of supporters, turned the tide at one stage.
A Jonas Maciulis three-pointer allowed the Lithuanians to nose ahead 72-70 in the home straight before Evan Fournier and Nando De Colo forced the final twist in the last two minutes.
Fournier finished with a game-high 24 points and De Colo added 21 as the duo overpowered Lithuania’s towering centre Jonas Valanciunas, who had 18 points and eight rebounds but missed a crunch free throw in the last minute.
The Australians were made to work hard for their win against the Dominicans, who trailed throughout the pacy contest but stayed on the Boomers’ heels as they matched them for speed.
Patty Mills sank 19 points and dished out nine assists and Chris Goulding scored 15 points for Australia, who will face France on Sunday to decide top spot in their pool.
Beaming after three successive wins in the preliminary group stage, the Brazilians were brought crashing down to earth by a rip-roaring Czech side who notched their third straight win after an opening defeat by the U.S.
Satoransky racked up 20 points and nine assists as the Czechs led by 30 at one stage in the second half and now meet Greece in their final second group stage match on Sunday.
Serbia, Spain, Poland and Argentina reached the quarter-finals with a match to spare on Friday. [nL5N25X1RW]
The Serbians face Spain in Sunday’s standout fixture while the Poles will clash with the Argentines to decide who will finish top in their respective pools.