Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Greece end US title hopes

SHATTERED DREAMS An inspired display of shooting helped the Europeans overhaul a 14-point deficit to defeat the US and set up a final showdown with Spain


Sofoklis Schortsanitis, right, of Greece goes up against Kirk Hinrich of the US during their semi-final at the World Basketball Championship in Saitama, Japan, yesterday.


Vassilis Spanoulis scored 22 points yesterday as Greece used a sizzling stretch of shooting across the middle two quarters to turn a 12-point deficit into a 14-point lead and beat the US 101-95 in the semi-finals of the world championship.

The Greeks (8-0) can add a world title to the European championship they won last year with a victory over Spain in tomorrow's gold medal game.

Mihalis Kakiouzis added 15 for Greece and 2.08m Sofoklis Schortsianitis -- nicknamed "Baby Shaq" -- added 14, shooting 6-of-7. The Greeks shot 63 percent (35-of-56) from the field and made 31 of 44 shots across the final three periods.

The Greeks -- with no current NBA players on their roster -- danced in a circle at halfcourt after their victory over a US team put together after a series of recent failures.

Done in again by their inept three-point shooting -- and they weren't much better from the foul line -- the US will fall short of a championship in a major international tournament for the third straight time.

The US (7-1) will return to the court today against Argentina, hoping to match the bronze medal it left Athens with in 2004.

Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points for the US, who couldn't overcome their 32 percent shooting from 3-point range or 59 percent from the foul line. Dwyane Wade added 19 and LeBron James had 17, but the three US captains were unable to avenge their disappointment from Athens.

The US hasn't even played for a world championship since winning the last of its three titles in Toronto in 1994. Mike Krzyzewski -- who was looking for gold after winning bronze with the 1990 team -- and a few American players walked to midcourt to congratulate the Greeks, while most of their teammates quickly headed to the locker room.

The US, who put together a national team program this year for the first time after their recent failures, now will be forced to qualify for the 2008 Olympics next summer in the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.

The US seemed in control after Joe Johnson's three-pointer gave the Americans a 33-21 lead with about six-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter. It was around then that James told his teammates on the bench: "They don't know what to do."

Well, they figured it out in a hurry.

Greece scored nine straight points, pulling within three on Theodoros Papaloukas' drive with 3:51 left and forcing Krzyzewski to call timeout. Dwight Howard converted a three-point play, but the Greeks answered with a 13-2 surge, featuring eight points from Schortsianitis, to open a 43-38 advantage and force Krzyzewski to call a second timeout.

Greece hit nine straight shots -- its only miss in the last five minutes was a heave from halfcourt as time expired -- and led 45-41 at halftime. The Greeks shot 56 percent (15-of-27) in the half.

The US were 2-of-10 from behind the arc -- after going 10-for-40 in their quarter-final victory over Germany -- and trailed at the break for only the second time in the tournament. Italy had a nine-point cushion in a group play game.

The US also had nine turnovers -- about two below their tournament average for a game -- and was 11-of-17 (65 percent) at the foul line.

Greece kept it up in the third quarter, hitting 14 of its 18 shots, including all four three-pointers in the first five minutes. Kostas Tsartsaris' three-pointer with 5:45 left in the period gave the Greeks a 65-51 lead -- the biggest deficit the US faced in the tournament.

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