LONDON – Russia and Spain will square off in one Olympic semifinal, both of them having survived in quarterfinal action North Greenwich Arena Wednesday.
Russia survived a late Lithuania rally and held on for an 83-74 win behind Andrei Kirilenko‘s 19 points and 13 rebounds and some clutch shooting late from captain Sergey Monya. They led five players in double digits for Russia, which finished first in pool play from Group B.
“Sergey Monya, our captain, is the face of everything we do, the face of Russia,” said Russia’s coach David Blatt. “He has played in every game for Russia in the seven years I have been with the team. He came up the biggest at the right time. He made the two biggest shots of the game and maybe of our career together.”
Spain had to survive France and some late-game licks to advance. They closed the game on a 12-2 run and won 66-59 to set up Friday’s semifinal matchup against Russia.
Nicolas Batum took a nasty swing at Juan Carlos Navarro, balling up his fist and swinging below the belt with 24 seconds to play. His frustration boiled over after his team’s inability to finish with a flourish, the loss itself and Spain’s “flopping” as France exited the competition before the medal round.
It was the second or third such incident of the competition, with Chris Paul of the U.S. and Facundo Campazzo of Argentina both taking swings (or at least Paul was accused of taking one) during their last pool play game Monday night.
“I just wanted to give him a good reason to flop,” an unapologetic Batum said after the game. He was called for an unsportmanlike foul but wasn’t ejected from the game. And as players from both sides shook hands, Batum was in the middle of the mix without incident.
He objected to Spain’s tactics afterwards, though, insisting that he Spaniards resorted to acting late with the game on the line.
“That’s not basketball,” he said, haven taken particular offense to the reaction of Rudy Fernandez after he was fouled by Ronny Turiaf in front of the scorer’s table moments earlier. “Sometimes, you have to give them a good reason to flop. And I hope I did.”
Batum’s shot was just the latest hurled at Spain, lambasted by some in the international press for not being able to beat Brazil in their final pool play game. That loss removed them from the path of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team until the gold medal game, provided both teams make it there.
“It’s pride, pride,” said Spain point guard Jose Calderon. “This is what we’ve been doing since we were like 13 years old, that’s how long I’ve been playing with Pau [Gasol], Juan Carlos Navarro and all of these guys together. And we never play to lose. Everybody can say what they want about Brazil and whatever happened. The bottom line is we lost a game. Brazil played better than us. And it hurts, because it took so many years to gain that respect from everybody, but because some people want to talk about that the last couple of days, yeah, it hurts your pride.”
The lack of respect from France was yet another shot, Calderon said. But one that ultimately doesn’t matter now that his team is moving on to the Friday’s semifinal matchup against Russia.
“I don’t know what was in their minds, I’m not sure,” he said. “But in our locker room, we knew we had confidence. We arrived today and said let’s just play basketball. And step-by-step we focused and we’re going to the semifinals. I don’t know if we’ll win another game or what will happen, but we’re playing again. And that’s all that matters.”