By Rocky Swift
TOKYO, July 31 (Reuters) – France and Australia completed sweeps of their preliminary groups in Olympic men’s basketball on Saturday, as seedings for the quarter-finals next week took shape.
Real Madrid’s Thomas Heurtel led with 16 points in France’s 79-62 victory over Iran at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo. They went 3-0 in Group A, including a shock defeat of Team USA on Sunday, the first Olympic loss for the Americans since 2004.
Despite his team’s dominant showing so far, Evan Fournier wouldn’t speculate on France’s chances for a medal.
“Quarter-final first. Focus on that,” said Fournier, who plays for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. “Too many times we’ve beaten very, very good teams and we lost in the semi-final, so no more of that.”
Australia’s Patty Mills was scintillating behind the 3-point line, powering his team to a 89-76 victory over Germany. Australia will go into the quarter-finals without forward Aron Baynes who aggravated a neck injury after bathroom slip and is out of the Games.
With a 1-2 record, Germany still has a chance to move on depending on the scoring of other third-placed teams in group play.
Italy finished 2-1 in the prelims and will go on to the quarter-finals next Tuesday. Nico Mannion drained a three-pointer in the last 30 seconds to fend off a comeback from Nigeria, with his team holding on to win 80-71.
“Honestly, it felt good just to see one go in. I shot it terrible the whole night,” said Mannion, who plays for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, “But you know, shooters keep shooting.
The U.S., 1-1, will face the Czech Republic in the last match on Saturday.
Team USA has historically been the team to beat at basketball, with a 139-6 record and 15 gold medals since 1936. But as the sport has grown in popularity around the globe, many national teams can field teams with NBA experience, and the U.S.’s talent advantage has shrunk.
Before losing to France at these Games, the United States dropped two straight exhibition games this month, including a defeat to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.
Both Iran and Nigeria finished their Olympic journeys winless, and offered bitter parting words. Iran’s Arsalan Kazemi said travel restrictions on Iran prevented the team from playing in friendly matches, while Nigeria’s Chimezie Metu blasted the nation’s government for lack of support.
“Our government and the Olympic committee of Nigeria, they make it extremely difficult for us to go out there and just focus on performing our sport,” Metu said.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Shri Navaratnam and Hugh Lawson)