NANJING (FIBA Diamond Ball for men) – Luis Scola scored 28 of his game-high 32 points in the second half as Argentina hit back from a large deficit to win a 95-91 thriller over Australia in the final of the FIBA Diamond Ball in Nanjing.
In a showdown between sides that will meet in Group A at the Beijing Games, the Aussies put forth an awesome effort to go in front 42-35 at half-time and then stretch the advantage to 19 in the third quarter.
But they weren’t able to put away the defending Olympic champions, with Scola making 11 of his 15 shots after the break.
“We played against a world class team,” Australia coach Brian Goorjian said, “and we played tough. But we saw the difference.”
Andres Nocioni, who had 18 of his 20 points in the first half, celebrated with his teammates after the game but said the Albiceleste have a long way to go before they are in top form.
“Right now, we need every game,” Nocioni said. “We are not ready. We have 10 more days of practice. We are not playing very well, and we’re not playing with confidence.
“We’re not at the level we want to be at and have to keep working. This is why these games are so important to us.”
The games are important for Australia as well. A team that only just got Andrew Bogut before the Diamond Ball, the Oceania champions are looking formidable with the Olympics quickly approaching.
David Barlow was outstanding, leading the way with 16 points and also adding toughness on defense and rebounding.
David Andersen and Matthew Nielsen also fought like warriors against Scola, Fabricio Oberto and the other Argentina big men.
Youngsters Pat Mills and Joe Ingles played pivotal roles on both ends of the floor, with the latter particularly effective on defense with three steals.
He finished with eight points, which included a make on his only three-ball, and five rebounds in 14 minutes.
Mills drilled three of his shots from behind the arc and had 14 points.
“Out of the Diamond Ball experience, we come out with confidence,” Goorjian said.
“Some of the players have only played together for a week. We have a young team and we still need to improve but I believe we have raised the bar.”
Nocioni, who won a gold medal with Scola four years ago, showered his teammate with praise.
“It was a tough game, but we are happy to have won it,” Nocioni said. “I think Luis was unbelievable. He played really well.
“He was MVP of the final. He’s a tough guy. He works every day and I think he helped us a lot in the second half.”
Argentina came all the way back from the huge deficit and finally took the lead, going in front by four.
Australia refused to go away themselves.
Trailing by four in the final minute, the Boomers grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and Glen Saville made a three-pointer in front of the Australia bench to cut the deficit to one.
But Manu Ginobili (24 points) and Fabricio Oberto (6pts 4rbs) each made free throws to keep the South Americans in front.
Instead of allowing Australia to launch a potential game-tying three-pointer, they twice fouled Pat Mills who made both free throws the first time.
On the second, after being fouled with Argentina leading by three, he needed to make the first and miss the second and hope for an offensive rebound and put-back.
Instead, Mills was off target with the first and when he tried to miss the second, he made the free throw to cut Argentina’s lead to 93-91.
Mills then fouled Ginobili and sank both shots from the charity stripe for the fourth-point triumph.