Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gasols, Spain the ones to beat at Europeans

source: NESHA STARCEVIC | AP Sports Writer

KAUNAS, Lithuania (AP)—With Pau Gasol(notes) averaging more than 20 points and brother Marc Gasol(notes) dominating the boards, Spain is the team to beat at the European Championship.

The defending champions next face Slovenia on Wednesday in the quarterfinals, but the role of favorite is not one Pau Gasol is relishing.

“We were favorites in 2007 and could not do it,” the Los Angeles Lakers center said.

The 2009 tournament posed problems as well.

“We went there as favorites as well but that didn’t last long,” he said.

Although Spain lost group matches to Serbia and Turkey two years ago, the team went on to win the title over the Serbs in Poland. This year, Spain has already lost to Turkey but still looks like the strongest team heading into the knockout round.

In Thursday’s other quarterfinals, France meets Greece and Russia plays Serbia in a repeat of their showdown at the same stage two years ago. Serbia won that game 79-68.

The two finalists will earn automatic berths at the 12-team Olympic tournament at next year’s London Games. The next four teams will go to an additional qualifying tournament, also of 12 teams, with three Olympic spots available.

First up for Spain is Slovenia, which became the last team to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals when it beat Finland on Monday.

“Slovenia is a tough, dangerous team,” said Pau Gasol, who has been averaging 20.4 points despite an ankle injury. “We know them well, though, after playing twice against them in the pre-tournament warmup games.

“They have a good inside game, with (center Erazem) Lorbek as their main man. But they are also dangerous from outside with Goran Dragic(notes), who creates a lot.”

Dragic is a backup guard with the Houston Rockets; Zoran Dragic plays in the Slovenian league.

With Gasol’s ankle getting better but still not 100 percent, Slovenia guard Saso Ozbolt said the Spanidards will be under greater pressure because they have been winning so easily.

“It could happen that we finally explode when we really need it,” Ozbolt said. “The Gasol brothers are exceptionally dominant. If you concentrate on them, the others take over, that’s why it’s so tough to play against Spain. We have to step our defense and try to keep them under 60 points.”

The unexpected story line of the tournament has been the success of Macedonia. The former Yugoslav republic nearly pulled off another major upset against Russia, but Sergey Monya’s 3-pointer saved the Russians. Macedonia now faces the daunting task of playing Lithuania.

The host nation is riding the support of loud fans and, with Macedonia missing power forward Todor Gechevski because of a broken arm, Lithuania looks to be the favorite.

Bo McCalebb, Macedonia’s American-born guard, has averaged 20.6 points and is one of the main reasons his team is in the last eight. But Macedonia must slow Lithuania’s running game and stop its perimeter shooting if it hopes to progress.