DONGGUAN, China (AFP) – France blew the Basketball World Cup wide open on Wednesday night by handing the United States (US) their first loss in the competition in 13 years in their quarterfinal clash, powered by a double-double from big man Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.
The historic 89-79 win for France eliminates the Americans early from the competition in China, dashing their hopes of a third straight title.
The prospect of an American exit had looked increasingly possible after the US sent a squad of second-tier stars and the loss is likely to prompt soul-searching in US basketball.
Gobert, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, had three blocks, including a key rejection down the stretch to help France seal the victory.
The seven-foot-one centre called the win “unbelievable”.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a while. I was thinking we might never get the opportunity (to beat the US) again and I told that to the guys,” Gobert said.
“It doesn’t mean much if you don’t win the gold, but it will go down as one of the biggest wins of my career and one of the biggest wins for French basketball for sure.”
In a hint of the sniping that may result in the US over the debacle, shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, who lead the Americans with 29 points, hit back at critics of the team.
“You guys are going to go on and say who we didn’t have but why don’t you all focus on who we do have?” he told reporters.
“We have 12 guys that want to compete for America, just like every other country. It hurts that some of our country people don’t feel that way about us, but we don’t care. We wanted to compete and we did.”
France will play Argentina tonight, who made it to the final four by defeating Serbia.
The US loss sets up an enticing consolation match with Serbia. Packed with NBA players, the two were tournament favourites and will be trying to salvage pride.