Marc Gasol, Spain shrug off slow start to FIBA World Cup

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 01 2019 12:49 AM

Marc Gasol and Spain bucked a so-so first half to eventually dismantle Tunisia 101-62 on Saturday. Jorge Silva, Reuters

Phoenix Suns star Ricky Rubio led Spain with 17 points, as the title contenders made a slow start to their FIBA World Cup campaign in a 101-62 victory over Tunisia on Saturday.

The Olympic bronze medalists have been touted as a threat to reigning 2-time champions the United States, who is without its big names in China.

But the Spanish were not at their best in the first half against minnows Tunisia despite boasting Marc Gasol, 34, center who played a key role in the Toronto Raptors' historic run to the NBA crown.

Spain led by just three points at halftime and there was the whiff of a huge upset, but they stepped on the gas after that in Guangzhou with Rubio also clocking up a leading 9 assists.

"Always the first game is a little tricky, you don't know how it will go," said Rubio, who joined the Suns this summer, adding his team had not been aggressive enough at the outset.

"Playing with the national team is different (from the NBA)," he added.

"You play with your friends, for your country, and for your family too.

"It's huge." 

Host China suffered a fright against the Ivory Coast before battling to victory against the lowest-ranked in the 32-team competition.

A rabid sell-out crowd at Wukesong Arena in Beijing was silenced as the Ivorians, ranked a lowly 64th in the world to China's 30th, took a shock lead into the second quarter.

The home side, who boast a towering front court of three 7-footers — Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin — were in danger of getting swallowed up by high expectations.

But China pulled level 29-29 at the break and willed on by the home crowd suffocated the Ivory Coast into submission, 70-55.

In other games, Poland downed Venezuela 80-69, Russia edged Nigeria 82-77, Puerto Rico beat Iran 83-81, and Argentina routed South Korea 95-69.

The United States, who have named a young side, open their title defense on Sunday in Shanghai against the Czech Republic.

The Americans are without the likes of LeBron James, but Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic said that Gregg Popovich's team — still packed with NBA talent — remain the side to beat in China.

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