LONDON – Vitaliy Fridzon scored 24 points and Russia rallied from an early 18-point deficit to edge Spain 77-74 Saturday in a battle of unbeatens to clinch a top seed in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament.
Both Russia and Spain had already clinched berths in the medal playoffs that begin on Wednesday, but Russia stayed with the US Dream Team of NBA stars as the only undefeated squads remaining.
Reigning European champion Spain and Brazil will meet on Monday for the second seed with the loser likely to enter the opposite side of the bracket as the United States in the knockout rounds.
Los Angeles Lakers centre Pau Gasol scored 20 points but missed a crucial free throw late in the game.
Having squandered the 18-point edge in just over 21 minutes, Spain entered the fourth quarter trailing 56-53 but began with a 16-4 run for a 69-60 lead with 4:39 to go. Sergio Rodriguez and Felipe Reyes each scored four in the run.
Timofey Mozgov answered with a dunk and a blocked shot that set up a tip-in by Fridzon to pull Russia within 69-66. Rodriguez sank another two-pointer but Fridzon answered for Russia with two free throws as the tension built.
Victor Khryapa pulled Russia even at 73-73 on a 3-pointer with 1:02 to play and after Rudy Fernandez missed a 3-pointer for Spain, Mozgov got behind Gasol for a slam dunk with 18 seconds remaining to put Russia on top 75-73.
Gasol was fouled with 5.3 seconds remaining but missed the first of two free throws to leave Spain trailing by a point.
Fridzon sank two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining to create the final margin, then Russia denied Spain even a shot at a tying 3-pointer before the buzzer sounded.
Gasol dominated Russia’s tournament-best defence in the early minutes as Spain opened the game with a 20-2 run over the first 5:30. The Spaniards opened 8-of-10 from the field while Gasol had 11 first-quarter points.
The Russians missed 10 of their first 11 shots and committed four early turnovers during Spain’s opening spurt.
Gasol and his brother Marc kept Russia from scoring inside. The Russians hit only 4-of-11 from the field in the first quarter, missing 9-of-10 from 2-point range while sinking 3-of-8 from beyond the arc.
But the Russians answered by connecting on 9-of-10 shots to start the second quarter and double-teaming Gasol defensively, trimming Spain’s half-time lead to 40-32. Gasol did not score in the second quarter.
Russia continued the fightback and went ahead 49-47 on an uncontested jump shot by Fridzon with 3:00 to play in the third quarter.