By Rocky Swift
SAITAMA (Reuters) – Argentina grabbed last place in the men’s Olympic basketball playoffs on Sunday, ending the medal aspirations of host country Japan.
Argentina dominated from the three-point line and contained Japanese star Rui Hachimura to just 13 points, his lowest booty of the tournament. The 97-77 victory over Japan at the Saitama Super Arena north of Tokyo takes Argentina to 1-2 and advance them to the quarter-finals.
“I think we have changed that bad pressure for a good way,” said Argentinian Facundo Campazzo. “We weren’t the worst team when we lost two games, and we’re not the best team right now after beating Japan. We have to keep our feet on the ground.”
Argentina’s Luis Scola, 41, will now play his fifth Olympic quarter-final, including a gold medal in 2004.
“Some of them weren’t even born when I started playing,” Scola said of his teammates. “They give me energy everyday, they push me, and I try to push them too.”
Japan finished the group stage without a win. The national team has never reached the last eight at the Games.
“We’re just started, we’re still a young team,” said Hachimura, who plays for the Washington Wizards in the NBA. “Now we have to have more experiences like this, more games like these as a team. It sucks because we have lost three times on our field.”
A draw will take place before the final match on Sunday to determine the men’s quarterfinals clashes on Tuesday. Unbeaten, France and Australia top the standings before the last preliminary match between Spain and Slovenia.
The Spaniards completed a sweep of their preliminary rivals, with a 76-66 victory over Canada. Canada, 1-2, can still progress depending on the results and the point differences between the other third-place teams.
Canada got off to a rough start, with several turnovers in the first quarter and allowing Spain to rack up 10 unanswered points. In the second half, Spain stepped up their game to three points to stifle Canada’s attempts to close the points gap.
Spain’s Alba Torrens hit two three-pointers to end a rally in Canada in the fourth quarter.
“We are at the Olympics and we know every team can catch you by the score,” said Torrens, who finished with 12 points. “The key here is to stay in the moment and keep pushing because you never know.”
The final Women’s Group A match between Serbia and South Korea is later on Sunday. Team USA and Belgium are at the top of their respective groups in the women’s preliminaries. China have also secured the advancement with a 2-0 record so far.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)