Tough defense helps Spain past Greece

ISTANBUL -- There is a truism that the Americans have come to know well over the past few years of playing in FIBA tournaments: If opponents think you can't shoot from outside, they are going to force you to beat them from outside.

Spain took that approach Saturday night against Greece, switching from a man-to-man defense to a zone for the entire fourth quarter and pulling away for an 80-72 victory in the knockout round of 16. The Greeks couldn't knock down 3s, going 3-for-12 from behind the arc in the final period.

"They made 3s against our man-to-man defense, but not the zone," Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said when it was pointed out that the Greeks had gone 4-for-8 from 3-point range in the third quarter to trail just 52-51 entering the final 10 minutes. "So the reason we changed was to try to make them play less pick-and-roll, and the idea, I think, worked pretty well."

Greece shot just 33 percent from 3-point range in the tournament. (Turkey is the best outside shooting team remaining, hitting at a 41.3 percent clip, and Team USA is second among the remaining teams at 38.5 percent.)

But it wasn't just the zone that got the defensive job done for Spain, which was ahead just 58-57 before Rudy Fernandez made a 3-pointer and then two free throws for a six-point lead. Ricky Rubio swiped the ball from Nicholas Zisis on Greece's next possession, leading to a fast-break bucket by Juan Carlos Navarro, and Navarro came up with a steal against Dimitrios Diamantidis the next time Greece had the ball.

Finally, Rubio (six assists) fed Navarro (22 points on 7-for-10 shooting) for a 3-pointer that made it 70-60 with 1:41 left, and it was all but over.

After the game, Diamantidis announced his retirement from the national team, which has not defeated Spain in a major international tournament since 2002.

"It's a pity that one of us has to go home tonight," Scariolo said.