SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) - Spain got off to a great start thanks to Jose Manuel Calderon and were never threatened as they defeated Serbia & Montenegro 87-75 to secure a quarter-final showdown with Lithuania, in what will be a rematch of the 2003 EuroBasket final.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and 15 rebounds and Rudy Fernandez chipped in with 18 off the bench, but it was Calderon who got Spain off to a tremendous start, sending the defending champions crashing out of the FIBA World Championship.
This is the fifth time in as many years that Serbia & Montenegro has lost to Spain in an international competition.
Calderon - who finished with 13 points and 4 assists - proved too quick for Vule Avdalovic and got to the basket often in the first quarter, either for a lay up or to draw the defense and find an open team-mate for an easy two.
Spain's playmaker had eight points and assisted on the other five as Pepu Hernandez's men raced to a 13-4 lead.
"It was very important for us to get an early advantage and I think we have taken a step forward in the sense that not only can we take a lead, but we can maintain it and control the game," he said.
"We tried to play like a team, but we need to play for 40 minutes. We made some mistakes, sometimes let Serbia & Montenegro get into the game again and score points. But we will learn from the lessons from today's game and apply them for the quarter-final."
Spain took their first double-digit lead of the game on Jorge Garbajosa's three from the top of the key, 18-8, and held that 10-point advantage at the end of the first quarter, 20-10.
The lead grew in the second quarter as Spain got a lift off the bench from Fernandez, Alex Mumbru and Marc Gasol.
Pau Gasol converted a free throw for a 31-16 advantage midway through the period - the biggest it would be in the first half.
Serbia & Montenegro did put up a fight and Marko Marinovic's lay up between Spain's big men enabled them to close within seven, 35-28.
But Calderon found Pau Gasol trailing and the 7-footer made a tough left handed lay up and a free-throw to once again bolster the lead back to double digits, 38-28.
Calderon later fed Gasol for an alley oop dunk and the point guard then converted three free throws as Spain went into the locker room with a 12-point lead, 43-31.
The second half was pretty much a formality for Hernandez's men and Juan Carlos Navarro made sure in the third quarter that Serbia & Montenegro wouldn't catch Spain napping.
The shooting guard had a personal 7-2 run to push the lead up to 19, 52-33, on a fast break lay up.
Serbia & Montenegro were struggling to get anything positive going. Darko Milicic - who finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks - missed a put back and a dunk to start the period and Igor Rakocevic was called for an offensive foul as he tried to go one on five.
The defending champions got within 12 - the closest they would get the rest of the way - as Bojan Popovic and Rakocevic made rare three-pointers for a 64-52 score.
Once again though, Spain responded with a key play, as Sergio Rodriguez found Fernandez for an alley oop dunk to end the third quarter with a 14-point cushion, 66-52.
rested most of his starters in the final period and Fernandez took over.
The swingman made a three-pointer to start the quarter for a 69-52 lead and his next - and last - shot from downtown, with under three minutes to play gave Spain their first 20-point lead of the game.
Serbia & Montenegro were able to cut into the lead in garbage time through Marinovic and Miroslav Raicevic for the final score of 87-75.
After the game, Hernandez said the key to Spain's win was their great start.
"We had one of our best games in the tournament because we started strong. Of course there were some moments when Serbia & Montenegro got close but we were practical and played more aggressive in defense," he said.
Looking ahead to the rematch of the 2003 European Championship - which Spain lost - Hernandez conceded it will not be an easy game.
"It will be another hard game because Lithuania are physical and have a long basketball tradition."
Meanwhile, Marinovic saw the bright side of playing a tough team like Spain.
"This is a good experience for our young team. We gave our best to show people we can play well and I think we did a great job here in Japan. We'll be better in Spain for the next EuroBasket. The reason we gave a fight to Argentina and not to Spain is because Spain is the second best team in the world. They are playing fast and we can't play at their speed."
And Sakota admitted that the bad start pretty much put Serbia & Montenegro out of the game for good.
"Spain was too strong for us. We opened the game very badly and there was some kind of problem in the first half that we couldn't get through, so the game was decided in the first half."
"I was happy with the play of Milicic not only today but during the entire championship. He needs more time to be more respected by officials and we consider him as our best player at this moment. We knew before the tournament started that we weren't going to be favourites. We came here mostly to gain some experience. We had a bad game against Nigeria but after that and until today, we played well."
By Simon Wilkinson, FIBA