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Mickael PIETRUS (FRA)
2006 FIBA World Championship, Sendai, Japan
21/08/2006Game Report, France v Nigeria 64-53, GROUP A

SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - France got a major contribution down the stretch from the latest member of the team to hold off a second half rally from Nigeria and win 64-53.

Mamoutou Diarra - France's replacement for Tony Parker - made a pair of three-pointers to extend Les Bleus' lead to 62-47 in the closing minutes of the game to end Nigeria's comeback.

Diarra, who arrived in Sendai on Saturday after Parker was officially ruled out of the FIBA World Championship with a broken finger, finished with nine points including another shot from beyond the arc that beat the half-time buzzer to cap off a 9-0 run that gave France a 33-15 lead at the break.

Nigeria had a mediocre first half to say the least. They started off slow, scoring only seven first quarter points - six of them by their star player Ime Udoka - and trailed by ten at the end of the period, 17-7. Things didn't improve much for them before the intermission as they went into the locker room having shot just 16 per cent in the first 24 minutes.

Frederic Weis was the catalyst for France early on, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in the opening frame as Les Bleus took a considerable lead which they never rescinded.

And Weis' back-up, Johan Petro, filled in nicely when the former was on the bench in the second quarter as Claude Bergeaud's men added to their advantage before half-time.

At the midway point of the third quarter, France looked like they were about to put this game on ice when their lead grew to 20, 44-24 on two free throws by Laurent Foirest.

But, as they did against Venezuela yesterday, Nigeria, sensing that their backs were against the wall, made a serious run over the final quarter and a half.

Ekene Ibekwe was particularly crucial to Sam Vincent's side during that stretch and his put back slam off of a missed lay up by Udoka at the end of the third quarter had the African nation trailing by just 11 with 10 minutes left to play.

France turned to Joseph Bokolo - a third string point guard who was promoted after Parker left - added to his heroics from the first game against Argentina making two three-pointers within minutes of each other to keep Les Bleus' lead well into double-digits.

However Ibekwe continued his fine display with an emphatic dunk over Petro that brought Nigeria within 12, 52-40.

His team-mate Ebi Ere, scoreless until the start of the fourth quarter, scored six points in the period including a lay up to bring Nigeria within nine, 56-47.

But Diarra then played his part for France and Bergeaud's men will gladly take tomorrow's day off after probably the toughest three-day fixture of any team.

"I am of course very happy that we won tonight. Our goal was to win at least one of the first two games against Argentina and Serbia & Montenegro. And we also wanted to make sure we beat Nigeria. It was definitely not easy but we have accomplished what we were looking for out of these three games," Bergeaud said afterwards.

Meanwhile Vincent will use the day off to try and correct the mistakes that has seen Nigeria lose two consecutive games and look less energetic than they did in their win over Serbia & Montenegro in the opener.

"It's disappointing to follow a win like that with two losses where we played poorly at times. When we came here we set ourselves a goal of winning two games and going through to the second round. It's still a possibility but we have some work to do tomorrow to accomplish that."

Vincent said the gruelling schedule of three games in three days was not the best thing for his veteran players.
"The older players are struggling with that many games. And playing against a team that runs up and down the court like France really exposed how tired they were. The day off will do them good," he said.

It should also help Weis who is finding France's style of play very tiring for him.

"Playing three games in as many days is bad enough but considering how we play, it's even more gruelling than you can imagine. However, it is our best ability so we must use it."

By Simon Wilkinson
FIBA