BEIJING (Olympics) – Argentina held off Russia for their fourth successive win at the Olympics on Monday with football legend Diego Maradona among those in the crowd.
Maradona stood and applauded throughout as Luis Scola poured in 37 points in a 91-79 triumph for the South Americans.
Argentina will face Greece in Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
Scola and Argentina defeated Greece in the last eight at the Athens Games four years ago en route to the gold medal.
While the undefeated United States have played like the team that looks unbeatable this summer, Argentina do have experience and a starting five that takes a backseat to no one.
Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto of the San Antonio Spurs, Andres Nocioni of the Chicago Bulls, Pablo Prigioni of Spanish champions Tau Ceramica and Houston Rocket Scola – the MVP of last year’s FIBA Americas Championship – along with Carlos Delfino (former Toronto) play the majority of the minutes for Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez.
Argentina led 27-16 at the end of the opening quarter but Russia, the EuroBasket 2007 champions who were eliminated from quarter-final contention by Australia on Saturday, battled back to trail 41-39 late in the second quarter.
Twice Argentina built 16-point leads in the third quarter but the Russians, with only pride to play for, clawed their way back.
A basket in the lane from Alexey Savrasenko, followed by two free throws from Andrei Kirilenko, reduced the deficit to 73-72 with 8:13 remaining in the game.
Russia’s JR Holden had a chance to put his team in front but was off target with a jump shot, and Scola went to the other end and scored on a three-point play.
Holden answered with a three-pointer to make it 76-75, but Scola replied with a basket and two free throws.
After Ginobili buried a three-ball to make it 83-75, Scola capped the 9-0 run with a baseline jumper on the left.
Argentina, much to the delight of Maradona who sent the Wukesong Arena crowd into raptures when his image was shown on the giant screen over the court, ended up with a 12-point triumph.
Scola finished 12 of 16 from the floor and 13 of 17 at the charity stripe.
Nocioni made all four of his three-balls and poured in 19 points while Ginobili was two of four from behind the arc and scored 12.
Prigioni had 11 points and 10 assists.
Russia coach David Blatt decided not to use one of his best players in the tournament, Viktor Khryapa, with the CSKA Moscow forward having carried an ankle injury into the Olympics.
Kirilenko scored 23 points and Holden 19 for the Russians, whose lone victory in the event came against Iran.