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Associated Press, Published August 08 2012

Spain beats France 66-59, reaches men's hoop semis

LONDON — About to be eliminated by Spain, France's Nicolas Batum wound up and slammed his arm into Juan Carlos Navarro, hitting him in the groin.

France's Ronny Turiaf had just sent a flailing Rudy Fernandez to the sideline with a hard foul.

"I wanted to give them a good reason to flop," Batum said.

The French went down swinging, not scoring.

Spain players were about the only thing the French could hit in the final minutes, the Spanish holding them to one meaningless basket in the final 6:50 of a 66-59 victory Wednesday that sent the 2008 silver medalists to the semifinals of the Olympic men's basketball tournament.

Marc Gasol scored 14 points, but it was the defense that won this game for the usually high-scoring Spanish.

"We still have to find our flow, we still have to find our best game offensively. But I like the way we were competing today," said Pau Gasol, who had two huge blocked shots down the stretch.

Trailing 57-54 after Batum's basket with 6:51 to play, Spain didn't allow another point until Mickael Gelabale's jumper with 5.5 seconds remaining, ending a two-game losing streak.

Juan Carlos Navarro added 12 points and Pau Gasol 10 for the Spanish, who advance to play Russia on Friday.

Tony Parker and Boris Diaw each scored 15 points for France, which grew frustrated at the finish and committed the two unsportsmanlike fouls in the final half-minute.

"Nobody likes to lose. It's the quarterfinals of the Olympics. Everyone wants to fight for those medals, and sometimes it gets a little out of hand because emotions get involved," Marc Gasol said. "Nobody gets hurt, that's the most important thing and I'm sure they didn't mean to hurt anybody."

The Spanish took the lead for good when Pau Gasol's blocked shot started a fast break that led to Sergio Llull's dunk, making it 58-57 with 5:36 remaining.

France kept misfiring and Spain kept the speedy Parker from getting into the lane as both teams struggled for offense. The highlight of Spain's defensive stand came when both Rudy Fernandez and Pau Gasol had blocks on the same possession, leading to a shot-clock violation.

Pau Gasol then found Marc on a nice pass through traffic inside, extending Spain's lead to 62-57 with 45 seconds to go.

"Tough loss," Parker said. "We had the game. We didn't make baskets we needed to win the game."

Spain beat France last year in the European championship game, the kind of wide-open contest the Spanish usually play. This was a change of pace, a necessary one after their own offensive struggles and coming after two straight poor finishes in this tournament.

Spain hadn't lost an Olympic game to anyone but the United States since 2000 before dropping its last two preliminary round games to Russia and Brazil, the latter coming with speculation it may have been on purpose because it kept the Spanish on the opposite side of the bracket from the U.S.

Batum said the French felt disrespected that Spain may have been angling to play them, perhaps leading to the frustration at the end.

Spain was not happy about Turiaf's foul on Fernandez and Batum's punch to Navarro nearly led to an altercation. Navarro made one of the free throws, Pau added two more, and Spain's run was up to 12-0 before France scored again.

"We had open shots, we had good looks," Diaw said. "I had a good look, Nicolas had a good look, but they just didn't go in."

The Spanish kept hopes alive for the gold-medal game rematch against the Americans, who beat them 118-107 in Beijing.

France had won four straight after losing to the U.S. in its opener and seemed in good shape for much of this one.

The French controlled much of the first half, leading by as many as eight, with Parker's speed giving Spain all sorts of trouble. Diaw, his Spurs teammate, scored 10 points and the French were ahead 37-34 at the break.

Spain came out of the locker room with seven straight, going ahead 41-37 on Marc Gasol's 3-pointer with 7:11 remaining in the third. It remained close throughout the period, France bringing a 53-51 edge to the fourth.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.