I’m not sure if it’s possible to score 22 points quietly — especially when playing only 25 minutes. But Luis Scola certainly tried his best Saturday as Argentina beat Nigeria, 93-79, to clinch a spot in the knockout round.
Scola led the Argentines in scoring for the second time in the tournament. Argentina also got healthy contributions from Manu Ginobli, Andres Nocioni, and Carlos Delfino. The Nigerians were led by former Arizona State Sun Devil big man Ike Diogu and the New Orleans Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
Diogu and Scola were matched up on both sides of the ball in the first quarter. The Nigerian big man’s size was definitely a problem for Luis. Diogu was able to push Scola off the block on offense and prevent him from attacking the hoop. Underneath, Ike boxed Scola out with ease at both ends of the floor. Argentina’s coach Julio Lamas quickly adjusted by bringing Nocioni over to guard Diogu and freeing Scola up to score three quick baskets before the period was over.
Nigeria’s size was a problem for Argentina throughout the game. The South Americans were outrebounded 43-29 (20-5 on the offensive glass). It didn’t matter how congested the lane was though; Argentina couldn’t miss in the first quarter. They shot 14-of-17 from the field en route to an 18-point lead after 10 minutes – a lead they never relinquished.
After sitting out the entire second quarter, Scola hit consecutive 15-foot jumpers to start off the third. He finished the night 7-of-10 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. While his scoring line might look impressive, it loses its luster a bit when you consider that four of Scola’s buckets were easy layups without a defender on him, and both of his jumpers were wide open looks. His only contested bucket was an and-1 layup in transition in the first quarter. Scola’s night was efficient, if not overly impressive.
Although I expect to see more out of Luis in the medal round games, the upside of his performance is how it showed his ability to get easy baskets. There might not be anyone in the NBA or this Olympic tournament better at diving to the hoop when their defender leaves them to help. He’s very sneaky for a guy who stands 6-foot-9. He has a great eye for passing lanes and always puts himself in position to get an easy bucket.
One thing that did bother me was his rebounding total. A big goose egg. In 25 minutes, Scola didn’t pull down a single board. His rebounding totals for the three previous games in the Olympic tournament were 5, 8, and 10. Part of this was due to Nigeria’s big-time size, but I think more of it was effort on Scola’s part. He wasn’t fighting for position like he was against Tunisia. I think his coach limited his minutes in this one because Luis may have been gassed. Perhaps the extra time on the pine will help him catch his breath and get back to fighting for boards inside.
Argentina’s final game of group play will be against the United States on Monday at 2:15 p.m. MST. The US squad received a scare against Lithuania today, so the Americans should be focused and ready to make a statement against Argentina, who handled Lithuania quite comfortably in its opener.
Scola will be tested more defensively against the US than in any game thus far. Because of the immense talent on the US team and the interchangeability of its players, Scola might match up against everyone from Tyson Chandler to Carmelo Anthony to Kevin Love.
Fans will remember an altercation between Scola and Love last season when Love appeared to intentionally stomp on Scola’s face. I expect Scola and the rest of the Argentinian team to avoid a face-stopping on Monday and give the US a real game.
Should Argentina lose, however, it will face the winner of the Spain-Brazil matchup in Group B in the quarterfinals having already clinched no worse than the third seed. The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka would be a stern defensive test for Scola, but the Varejao-Nene-Splitter trio is no picnic either. In short, it’s all uphill from here for the Suns’ new power forward. Let’s see if he’s up to the task.
UPDATED: Scenarios for Monday
Tanking has become a hot topic in NBA circles these days with teams seemingly losing intentionally for a better chance of obtaining a top draft pick and for obtaining more favorable playoff matchups.
Tanking has even permeated the Olympics in a badminton scandal, so it should come as on surprise that the “T” word has come up again in advance of Monday’s Spain-Brazil matchup in which both teams are incentivized to lose.
The winner will likely face Scola and Argentina in the quarterfinals with Team USA waiting in the semis. The loser will probably get France and then the winner of Russia/Lithuania, a considerably easier path to the championship game.
However, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, both teams were aghast when the possibility of them tanking was brought up, and FIBA does not plan on sending any pre-game anti-tanking warnings.
If ailing Spaniards Marc Gasol or Juan Carlos Navarro don’t suit up or if the game gets real ugly late perhaps their actions will tell a different stories than their words.
Argentina will face the “winner” of that contest so long as Scola’s squad loses to Team USA. If the Argentines win, they will likely be the No. 2 seed out of Group A and face the loser of Spain/Brazil because they would need to blow out the Americans to nab the No. 1 seed, which will draw Australia. – Michael Schwartz