Originally created 08/04/98

U.S. suddenly back in hunt

ATHENS, Greece -- The no-name U.S. team is suddenly in the thick of things at the World Basketball Championship.

Jimmy Oliver led a second-half surge with 17 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:18 left, as the United States beat previously undefeated Spain 75-73 Monday and locked up a quarterfinal berth.

Yugoslavia and Greece also fell from the unbeaten ranks Monday, but advanced to the quarterfinals.

Italy upset European champion Yugoslavia 61-60 as center Gregor Fucka made two free throws with 20 seconds remaining, while Russia beat Greece 60-48 behind Sergei Babkov's 18 points.

Six teams have 4-1 records and the United States, Spain, Yugoslavia, Russia, Greece and Lithuania -- which beat Argentina 84-75 Monday -- have assured themselves of quarterfinal spots with one game remaining in the round-robin second round.

"It's wide open right now. The teams are really evenly matched. A lot of games are going to come down to the last couple minutes," U.S. coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.

The win over Spain did, with plenty of contributions from unsung players.

Brad Miller, who went undrafted out of Purdue this spring, had 12 points and six rebounds in his strongest outing of the tournament. Kiwane Garris, who played at Illinois and is now in the CBA, had 11 points and Wendell Alexis, who starred at Syracuse in the 1980s and now plays in Germany, added 10 points.

But as it has almost all tournament, the United States started flat, missing 12 of its first 15 shots and trailing 20-8 nine minutes into the game.

The crew of castoffs, most of whom play in either the CBA or Europe, shot 11-for-31 from the field (35 percent) in the first half and trailed 42-31 at halftime.

But they battled back behind Oliver's hot hand and some increased intensity on defense.

"We're a working-class team," said Oliver, a former Purdue standout who now plays in Spain. "We're not high class, highly paid individuals. We need to go out and work for it. If we do, this gold medal should be ours."

Spain's Alberto Herreros scored 27 points.

The Americans, playing here because the NBA labor dispute led to the dumping of the roster of NBA stars, never led until Oliver hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game to make it 72-71.

Free throws by both teams made it 75-73 with 10 seconds left, giving Spain time to tie or win the game. But Ignacio Rodriguez missed a 3-pointer from the corner and Jose Antonio Paraiso, who grabbed the rebound, threw up a wild shot.

Since losing to Lithuania in its second game, the United States has won three straight and no one has a better record.

"This is all going to be work here. We're not going to breeze through any game," said Jimmy King, a part of Michigan's Fab Five which reached two NCAA title games. "That's how competitive this tournament is."

Yugoslavia and Greece found that out.

Fucka, who was born in Slovenia, paced Italy (3-2) past 1990 world champion Yugoslavia with 15 points. He had seven straight points off a tip-in, 3-pointer and layup to put Italy ahead 48-42 with 8:19 to go.

Yugoslavia, which beat Italy in the 1997 European championship gold medal game, had its chances to win, but Milenko Topic and Sasha Obradovic both missed jumpers in the final 2.5 seconds.

Yugoslavia had beaten its first four opponents by an average of more than 25 points, but it committed 20 turnovers on Monday.

Greece, playing before 14,000 people at the Peace and Friendship arena, led 43-38 with about seven minutes remaining, but Russia went on a 14-0 run to take control. Babkov led four Russians in double figures, while Fragiskos Alvertis topped Greece with 12 points.

Elsewhere, Australia (3-2) rallied for a 75-63 victory over Brazil (1-4), and Puerto Rico (2-3) kept alive its slim hopes for a quarterfinal spot by beating Canada (1-4) 94-81.

In consolation play, Nigeria claimed 13th place with a 70-60 victory over Japan, and Senegal finished 15th by beating South Korea 75-72.


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