August 1, 2021

By Rocky Swift

SAITAMA (Reuters) -Argentina snagged the last playoff spot in men’s Olympic basketball on Sunday, ending the medal aspirations of host nation Japan.

Argentina dominated from the three-point line and contained Japan star Rui Hachimura to just 13 points, his lowest haul of the tournament. The 97-77 win against Japan at the Saitama Super Arena north of Tokyo lifts Argentina to 1-2 and advances them to the quarter-final.

“I think we changed that bad pressure in a good way,” said Argentina’s Facundo Campazzo. “We were not the worst team when we lost two games, and we are not the best team right now after winning over Japan. We have to keep our feet on the floor.”

Argentina’s Luis Scola, 41, will now go into his fifth Olympic quarter-finals, including a gold medal showing in 2004.

“Some of them weren’t even born when I started playing,” Scola said about his teammates. “They give me energy every day, they push me, and I try to push them too.”

Japan finished the pool stage with no wins. The national team has never made it to the final eight at the Games.

“We just started, we’re still a young team,” said Hachimura, who plays for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and was the second-highest scorer in the tournament.

“Now we need to have more experiences like this, more games like these as a team. It sucks because we lost three times on our home court,” he added.

In a battle for supremacy over Group C and seeding advantage in the knockout stage, Slovenia overcame Spain 95-87 in a back-and-forth match.

Spain held the lead for most of the game, but in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Klemen Prepelic hit a three-pointer to put Serbia ahead for good.

A drawing will be held later to determine match-ups in the men’s quarter-finals on Tuesday. Serbia, France, and Australia will be the top seeds, with 3-0 records in their respective groups.

Spain’s women finished a sweep of their preliminary rivals, with a 76-66 victory over Canada. Canada, 1-2, can still advance depending on results and point differences among other third-place teams.

Canada had a rocky start, with multiple turnovers in the first quarter and allowing Spain to run up 10 unanswered points. In the second half, Spain ramped up its three-point game to snuff out Canada’s attempts to close the point gap.

Spain’s Alba Torrens hit two three-pointers to halt a fourth quarter rally by Canada.

“We are at the Olympic Games, and we know that every team can catch up with you in the score,” said Torrens, who finished with 12 points. “The key here is to keep in the moment and to keep pushing because you never know.”

The final Group A women’s match between Serbia and South Korea will take place later on Sunday. Team USA and Belgium sit atop their respective groups in the women’s preliminaries. China has also guaranteed advancement with a 2-0 record so far.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)