KAUNAS, Lithuania (AP) — Defending champion Spain and first-time finalist France will compete for the European basketball title on Sunday and have qualified for next year’s Olympics in London.
Juan Carlos Navarro scored 35 points in a performance his coach called a “masterpiece” as Spain beat Macedonia 92-80 in the first semifinal on Friday.
France got 22 points from Tony Parker to beat Russia 79-71 in the late game. Nicolas Batum added 19 points for France, which reached the championship game for the first time.
“I’ve been chasing this for 11 years and I’m very happy that I can finally say I’m going to the Olympics,” Parker said.
France won a silver medal in 1949 but the tournament was played in a different format and did not have a final.
France went on a 10-2 to finish the third quarter and pull away. Going into the fourth, the run was 16-4, with eight points coming from Ali Traore.
Pau Gasol had 22 points and 17 rebounds for Spain.
Navarro scored 19 points in the third quarter to break open a close game. Spain coach Sergio
Scariolo did not hold back in praising his point guard.
“He’s like a masterpiece you see in Louvre or Prado, he is like one of the best artists, he has his own inspiration … He is out of this planet,” Scariolo said.
“We are very proud to have reached the goal of qualifying for the Olympics. It was tough. They play with heart and class and they play smart.”
Macedonia has been the surprise team of the tournament and gave Spain a tough game, leading 45-44 at halftime.
Then Navarro took over.
“He was amazing, incredible, he did everything on both ends,” said Spain power forward Serge Ibaka, who had 11 points. Ibaka, a native of Congo who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA, is in his first tournament with Spain, his adopted country.
Macedonia coach Marin Dokuzovski said his team came into the game “as always with a big heart and to play hard.”
“We knew whom we were playing and that it would be hard to surprise Spain. We didn’t play such good defense as before, my players were getting tired and Spain’s offensive rebounds hurt us,” Dokuzovski said.
Bo McCalebb, the American-born Macedonia point guard, led his team with 25 points and five assists, while forward Pero Antic had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Pau Gasol, who struggled with his shot, had nine offensive rebounds as Spain outscored Macedonia 22-6 from second-chance opportunities. Gasol was 8-of-20 from the field.
Younger brother Marc Gasol had 10 rebounds and 11 points as Spain pulled down 15 more rebounds than Macedonia.
Ricky Rubio, the guard signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves, had seven rebounds and four assist to go with five points in 22 minutes.
The finalists qualified directly for the London Olympics. The next four teams go to an additional qualifying tournament. Greece beat Serbia 87-77 earlier to join Lithuania and Macedonia there, with Russia also advancing.