France blew the Basketball World Cup wide open Wednesday by handing the United States their first loss in the competition in 13 years in their quarterfinal clash, powered by a double-double from big man Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.
The historic 89-79 win for France eliminates the Americans early from the competition in China, dashing their hopes of a third straight title.
The prospect of an American exit had looked increasingly possible after the USA sent a squad of second-tier stars and the loss is likely to prompt soul-searching in USA basketball.
Gobert, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, had three blocks, including a key rejection down the stretch to help France seal the victory in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan.
The 7ft, 1in centre called the win “unbelievable”.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for a while. I was thinking we might never get the opportunity (to beat the USA) again and I told that to the guys,” Gobert said.
“It doesn’t mean much if you don’t win the gold, but it will go down as one of the biggest wins of my career and one of the biggest wins for French basketball for sure.”
In a hint of the sniping that may result in the United States over the debacle, shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, who lead the Americans with 29 points, hit back at critics of the team.
“You guys are going to go on and say who we didn’t have but why don’t you all focus on who we do have?” he told reporters.
“We have 12 guys that want to compete for America, just like every other country. It sucks that some of our country people don’t feel that way about us, but we don’t care. We wanted to compete and we did.”
France will play Argentina on Friday, who made it to the final four by defeating Serbia.
- Consolation match -
The USA loss sets up an enticing consolation match with Serbia on Thursday. Packed with NBA players, the two were tournament favourites and will be trying to salvage pride.
Wednesday’s contest was marked by big lead changes, and Mitchell’s jumpers and slashing moves to the basket helped the Americans cut down a 10-point French advantage in the third quarter to seize back the lead.
But Mitchell cooled in the fourth and the French came back, led by Gobert and sharp-shooting small forward Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic, who led France in scoring with 22 points.
Fournier slashed to the hoop for a driving lay-up to give France the lead again at 78-76 with about three minutes remaining in the game.
With under a minute left and down by four, Mitchell squirted into the lane for a layup but Gobert smothered the shot by his Jazz teammate and the Americans were never able to get any closer.
The win raises the prospect of France adding a Basketball World Cup title to the football World Cup hardware they won in Russia last year.
The loss in Melbourne was the first for the United States in 78 games in major competitions and exhibition games.
Later, San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills was in sparkling form once more for Australia as they reached the Basketball World Cup semi-finals for the first time.
The Boomers, who had never gone beyond the quarter-finals in 11 previous appearances, defeated tournament debutants the Czech Republic 82-70 and will meet Spain on Friday.
This was undefeated Australia’s sixth win in a row in China and in doing so they avoided becoming the latest surprise casualty at this unpredictable World Cup.
Argentina stunned favourites Serbia on Tuesday to go with the ouster of reigning two-time champions USA.
The 31-year-old guard Mills led the scoring with 24 points. He also had six assists and four rebounds.
Australia were heavy favourites in Shanghai against the Czechs, who bravely hung on until midway through the third quarter, when the Boomers cranked up the pressure.
Australia survived the World Cup “Group of Death” also including Canada, Senegal and Lithuania, before beating the Dominican Republic and then fellow semi-finalists France.
Veteran Australian Andrew Bogut was again loudly booed throughout by fans in Shanghai upset with a tweet he wrote in July about Chinese swimming star Sun Yang.
He goaded the crowd afterwards with a dance as he came off the court.
(With AFP inputs)