China, Australia and New Zealand advanced to the playoff rounds of the World Basketball Championship with triumphs yesterday, while Puerto Rico, Brazil and host Japan were sent home.
Wang Shipeng's dramatic three-pointer at the final buzzer gave China a 78-77 victory over a Slovenia team with four National Basketball Association players. NBA center Yao Ming had 36 points and 10 rebounds in the Group D triumph.
"It's a miracle. It's a bigger miracle than our miracle in the last Olympics," said forward Zhu Fangyu, comparing the triumph to one over Serbia and Montenegro to reach the final eight at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Slovenia also squeaked into the knockout stages thanks to qualified Italy beating Puerto Rico 73-72. The Caribbean squad was one basket away from edging Italy for a No. 2 seed. Instead, they were ousted on tiebreakers.
"It's a strange situation. We're going home but we were so close to being second in our group," Puerto Rico coach Julio Toro said. "It was a tough game. We put our soul into it. But sometimes you play that way and you don't manage to win."
The Australians routed winless Qatar 93-46 in Group C round-robin play and advanced when Lithuania qualified by eliminating Brazil 79-74.
The Boomers booked a round-of-16 date Sunday against the US team of NBA stars.
"We've come here and we've done our work," Aussie coach Brian Goorjian said. "It was a tough group that didn't do us any favours but we worked hard. It will be a dream for our country to play the United States."
Complete pairings for the 16-team knockout rounds that start tomorrow at Saitama were awaiting the night's final round-robin games.
New Zealand dumped Panama 85-75 in Group B, keeping Japan and Panama from advancing. Craig Bradshaw led the Tall Blacks with 17 points.
"We're thrilled and delighted because in two days' time we'll wake up and play," New Zealand coach Tab Baldwin said.
"We were obviously playing for our survival," he said.
Unbeaten Greece and Turkey meet to decide the Group C crown later yesterday, the winner joining Olympic champion Argentina, Spain and the US National Basketball Association stars as top seeds in the playoff rounds.
Others already set for the knockout showdown that starts tomorrow in Saitama include African champion Angola and Germany.
Germany outlasted Angola 108-103 in a triple-overtime thriller to capture the number two spot in Group B, NBA star Dirk Nowitzki scoring 47 points and twice extending the game to an extra period before the Germans could prevail.
Argentina completed an unbeaten run through group play with a 83-79 victory over two-time defending champion Serbia and Montenegro.
Luis Scola led Argentina with 22 points while Emanuel Ginobili of the NBA San Antonio Spurs added 13 and Andres Nocioni of the NBA Chicago Bulls contributed 12.
Igor Rakocevic led the Serbians with 25 points, while NBA Orlando Magic center Darko Milicic scored 24 points and had 12 rebounds.
Nigeria, led by Ebi Ere's 19 points, beat Lebanon 95-72 as both teams matched Serbia on 2-3.
"Our guys played a great game," Nigeria's American coach Sam Vincent said.
"Defensively we were really tough and offensively we wanted to get the ball inside and attack inside and that is what we did," he said.
Lebanon, Nigeria and the Serbs were awaiting the final Group A game, France against Venezuela, to decide the fate of all five teams in a race that could come down to point-differential tiebreakers.