Turkey and Slovenia power into quarter-finals
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - World championship hosts Turkey and the tournament's crowd pleasers Slovenia set up what should be a fascinating quarter-final after impressive wins over their rivals in the last 16 Sunday.
The Turks, roared on by the home crowd, romped to a 95-77 win over France while the Slovenians, who are looking for their first medal in any major event, blew away Australia 87-58.
Slovenia, the smallest nation in the 24-team event with a population of just over two million, demonstrated trademark flair and talent in a one-sided contest.
"We have become contenders among the top eight teams, first in Europe and now the world," Slovenia forward Uros Slokar said after their fifth win in six matches.
"It is true that we are a small country but on the court the size of a country doesn't matter; what matters is how the players perform and how the coach works with the players.
"We have a very good system which helps talents develop and grow as basketball players," added Slokar.
Slovenia never looked back after racing into an early 12-0 lead, limiting Australia to just six field goals from 27 attempts in the first half while they sank eight three-pointers at the other end.
The winners finished with 16 three-pointers from 33 attempts, guard Jaka Lakovic leading the way with 19 points while center Primoz Brezec added 12 and playmaker Goran Dragic scored 10 with eight assists.
"The game was easier than we expected and I think we can make another step forward," said Lakovic, who was part of the side that finished fourth in last year's European Championship.
Turkey are looking for a second podium finish on home soil after winning the 2001 European Championship silver medal in Istanbul and they were unstoppable against France, who faded away after winning their opening three games.
The French lost their final two group matches and went down with a whimper against Turkey, who scored almost at will from inside the paint and behind the three-point arc.
Phoenix Suns forward Hidayet Turkoglu put his patchy group stage form behind with a brilliant individual performance capped by a game-high 20 points, while Sinan Guler added 17 after making all seven shots from two-point range.
A flexible and mobile Turkish defense forced seven French turnovers in the first quarter and 17 in the match, having shot an impressive 72 percent from inside the arc.
"The 10-0 run at the start of the second half was crucial and the aggressive half-court zone was the best defense any of my teams have ever played," Turkey's Serbian coach Bogdan Tanjevic told a news conference.
"I hope (guard) Kerem Tunceri's ankle injury is not too serious and that he will be fit to play against Slovenia on Wednesday," he added.
Tournament favorites the U.S. take on rank outsiders Angola and Russia meet equally unfancied New Zealand Monday, while Lithuania play China and Argentina clash with traditional rivals Brazil Tuesday for the remaining quarter-final berths.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Kevin Fylan)
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