MADRID (AFP) — Serbia held off France 90-85 in the semi-finals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Madrid on Friday to set up a title fight against undefeated reigning champions the United States.
Serbia won five world titles as part of Yugoslavia as recently as 2002 but they now have reached their first final since independence. They next play the United States who beat Lithuania 96-68 in Barcelona on Thursday.
Milos Teodosic led the way with 24 points while Bogdan Bogdanovic had 13 and three other Serbs had 10 points as they defeated France, who had beaten hosts and major title contenders Spain in the quarters.
“What can I say about Milos? He’s our leader. He is one of the best point guards in the world. But this was a great team performance,” said Nikola Kalinic.
In their first worlds as Serbia, the Balkan giants reached the third place game in 2010 but lost to Lithuania. But Sasha Djordjevic’s men have secured at least second place this time around.
France were unable to repeat their dazzling performance against Spain even though Nicolas Batum did score 35 points – 17 of those in the fourth quarter – and Boris Diaw had 13.
The reigning European champions now face off against Lithuania in the game for third place on Saturday, looking for their first-ever podium finish. France’s previous best showing was fourth in 1954.
France were able to stay with Serbia in first five minutes before Teodosic really began to take control of the game. The playmaker had six points and one assist in an 11-0 run to give Serbia a 20-10 lead. The cushion was 21-15 after one quarter.
Serbia opened the second quarter with a 10-0 run for a 30-15 lead, and a 7-0 surge later in the quarter pushed the margin to 18 points – 43-25. The Serbs were leading 46-32 at the break – thanks to Teodosic scoring 10 points in the second period.
France tried to get back into the game but they could not get enough defensive stops. Vincent Collet’s team cut the gap to 53-41 but Serbia continued to have an answer for every France push and the advantage was 61-46 after 30 minutes.
France did not give up and quickly got the lead to the magical 10-point barrier. And then Diaw, Batum and Evan Fournier all nailed three-pointers to cut the Serbian lead down to 65-61 with five minutes to play.
Bogdanovic came up with a big three-pointer and layup to keep France at at bay and then Teodosic’s three-pointer made it 77-68 with three minutes left.
Batum, Diaw and Thomas Heurtel all knocked down three-pointers to trim the gap to 82-79 but France couldn’t stop Serbia at the other end as they coasted into Sunday’s final.