SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Serbia & Montenegro took a page out of Argentina's playbook, putting together a great first quarter to see off struggling Venezuela in a 90-65 win.
Like Andres Nocioni in the first game of the day, Igor Rakocevic made the best of his playing time scoring a game-high 26 points in 26 minutes.
The guard showed the full extent of his scoring repertoire with 19 points in the first half, as the defending champions took a 46-29 advantage into the break.
Rakocevic had 13 in the first quarter alone to help Dragan Sakota's men race out to a 27-13 lead in the opening frame.
Sakota conceded that in his mind the game ended there.
"It was a very important win as we are now assured of going through to the next round. We were able to get off to a great start and we had a big enough lead by the end of the first quarter to know the outcome of the game."
But the first quarter didn't end well for Serbia & Montenegro as Ognjen Askrabic injured his left ankle on a three-point attempt and he is likely to miss tomorrow's game against Argentina.
"It's the third time that he has injured the ankle since we started the preparations for this tournament so I think he will have to miss tomorrow's game," Sakota said.
Venezuela could not buy a shot early on and at the same time were disorganised defensively, leaking several easy baskets.
Their head coach Nestor Salazar did not contain his displeasure with the team's performance as he yelled at his players in a time-out after just two minutes played, as they were 10-0 down.
The South American nation eventually got some offense going with captain Victor Diaz leading the way, but the deficit was already too substantial and Serbia & Montenegro continued to add to it in the second quarter.
Darko Milicic had an excellent first half at both ends of the court. He showed his devastating inside-out game and at the same time contained Richard Lugo, Venezuela's best offensive weapon, limiting him to only two points in the first two quarters while the Novi Sad native had 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks at the break.
The second half started as a defensive duel between the two big men. Milicic blocked a jumper by Lugo from the top of the key and ran the length of the floor only for the Venezuelan to chase him down and reject his lay up attempt.
Lugo had another nice block on Goran Nikolic later in the period while Milicic finished the game with six rejections.
Rakocevic made a three-pointer for a 53-31 advantage and from there on his team-mates took care of the scoring.
Milicic scored a basket late in the third quarter to give Serbia & Montenegro their first 30-point advantage of the game, 71-40.
The final period was nothing more than a formality for the defending champions who rested their stars.
Venezuela got a lift from substitutes Pablo Machado and Gregory Vallenilla in the fourth quarter, with the latter's lay up cutting the lead down to 20, 76-56.
That however was as close as they would get as Uros Tripkovic scored four late points to push the lead back up to 25.
Milicic finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks, and four assists. Vule Avdalovic chipped in with 12 points while Nikolic had all eight of his points in the second half.
Victor Diaz led a balanced offene for Venezuela with 11 points. Machado, Lugo and Oscar Torres added 10 each.
After the game, Machado said it was tough to recover from the poor start.
"We didn't come out strong enough and ready to play. We were quite static in the first quarter and that's why we fell behind by so much. Our defense was really bad and Serbia & Montenegro were able to exploit that weakness. Once we trailed by double digits, it was pretty much game over," he said.
By Simon Wilkinson, FIBA