ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Forward Luis Scola steered Argentina into the world championship quarter-finals with a breathtaking individual performance in a 93-89 victory over traditional rivals Brazil on Tuesday.
Scola, who as a 10-year-old boy mopped the court during timeouts at the 1990 world championship in his country, poured in 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a rip-roaring contest against the Brazilians.
Argentina, the 2004 Olympic champions, will face Lithuania for a place in the last four after the east European giants were made to work hard for a 78-67 win over China.
Scola of the Houston Rockets scored 10 of Argentina’s last 12 in a dramatic finish after the lead had changed hands time and again, sending the Argentine fans in the Sinan Erdem dome into raptures.
“It was an amazing basketball game and I almost wish I could have watched it from the outside,” said Scola, the tournament’s top scorer averaging 30.3 points per game.
“I would love it if three or four players on our team would score between 15 and 20 points rather than two guys scoring 30 each, because we have a lot of players who can step up.
“But I know my team will be looking for me at crunch time because we are missing several regular starters in this tournament and I am delighted I made all those crucial shots tonight, on another day I might have missed.”
Carlos Delfino added 20 points for the winners, including four three-pointers, while Marcelo Huertas scored 32 and Leandro Barbosa chipped in 20 at the other end.
Lithuania were given a huge scare after falling behind 16-5 early on against an improving Chinese team.
Forward Linas Kleiza led the fightback with 30 points, shooting an impressive 14 of 20 from the field, as the Lithuanians went on a 14-1 run to take a 62-49 lead in the third quarter.
The Chinese, whose guard Liu Wei scored 21 points, cut the deficit to 66-60 at the start of the fourth period but like Scola against the Brazilians, Kleiza stepped up at crunch time with a series of unanswered jump-shots.
“We came out sleeping while China came out hard, they had nothing to lose and played a very good game,” Kleiza said.
“They played the kind of basketball that reminds of the NBA,” said Kleiza, who has joined the Toronto Raptors from Greek side Olympiakos — where he enjoyed an excellent season after a four-year spell with the Denver Nuggets.
“This Lithuania side is not a Kleiza team; a lot of guys here have different roles and my role is to score, we have a good mix and I am happy to be a part of it,” he said.
Holders Spain take on dark horses Serbia and hosts Turkey play Slovenia in the opening two quarter-finals on Wednesday, while tournament favorites the U.S. clash with Russia and Lithuania meet Argentina on Thursday.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Kevin Fylan