Greece downs China to enter quarterfinals

Greece’s national basketball team cruised into the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Championship by defeating China 95-64. As usual, the Greeks started slowly: Four minutes into the game, they had fallen behind 8-0 and had missed all of their nine shots. More worrying was that the Chinese were doing damage without relying on their towering center Yao Ming. A timeout and a couple of changes in the lineup, notably the insertion of guard Theodoros Papaloukas, allowed Greece to steady itself. It was still trailing 18-11 after one quarter. In the second quarter, China pushed its advantage to 25-15, before Greece took over. Papaloukas and fellow guard Vassilis Spanoulis took up the scoring, mostly on drives to the basket, while center Sophocles Schortsianitis was surprisingly effective against Yao, scoring inside and holding him at bay on defense, despite being 20 centimeters (8 inches) shorter. Greece also began applying more pressure on China’s guards, stealing the ball often, and took a 41-36 lead at halftime. Greece’s defensive pressure redoubled in the third quarter, turning it into a nightmare for the Chinese players. At the end of the quarter, the score was 67-42 and Greece’s last player on the bench, forward Panayiotis Vassilopoulos, had scored his first points in the tournament. Coach Panayiotis Yiannakis, remembering his team blowing a 17-point lead against Brazil a couple of games ago, did not allow his players to relax in the final quarter. The Chinese recovered their shooting touch, but Greece’s easy points from steals overwhelmed them. Until yesterday’s game, Yao was the tournament leader in points, rebounds and blocks per game, as well as in field-goal and free-throw percentage. He dominated the team’s effort to the point where China’s Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas had to chide the rest of his players to stop leaving everything to Superman Yao. They did step up in this game, but Yao himself was limited to 10 points and eight rebounds. Guard Wang Shipeng led China with 16 points. Papaloukas and Spanoulis led Greece’s scoring with 19 and 15 points respectively. Greece also had just three turnovers to China’s 24. Greece now plays France, 68-62 winners over Angola, on Wednesday. The winner will play in Friday’s semifinals against the victor in the US-Germany game.

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