Poland had not been to the World Cup in 52 years.
It’s making up for lost time.
Poland is in the driver’s seat for a quarterfinal berth next week after beating Russia 79-74 in a second-round opener on Friday in Foshan, China. Adam Waczynski scored 18 points and Mateusz Ponitka added 14 for Poland, which stayed unbeaten at 4-0 and could clinch a quarterfinal spot in a number of ways — the simplest being a win over Argentina on Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling but we don’t want to stop,” Poland guard Lukasz Koszarek said. “We know it’ll be more difficult and more difficult, but we don’t want to stop.”
Mikhail Kulagin scored a game-high 21 for Russia (2-2), which was eliminated from quarterfinal contention. The Russians play their second-round finale on Sunday against Venezuela.
Poland shot only 36 percent, but went 35 for 38 from the foul line.
Poland led by one with 2:20 left when Ponitka drove the lane, stumbled to the floor under the basket and somehow fired the ball out to Aaron Cel in the left corner as he fell. Cel hit a 3-pointer off the improbable assist, putting Poland up 72-68 and kept the lead the rest of the way.
“This is the competitive will, the heart, the toughness of our team — to find a way and keep competing,” Poland coach Mike Taylor said.
Taylor said he thinks the run by Poland in this World Cup, the country’s first appearance in FIBA’s signature event since 1967, will be a spark for growing the game in the country.
“I think it means everything,” Taylor said. “I think the country can take self-confidence from the performance of these players. We can compete. We can do it.”
Russia led 40-29 late in the half, but Ponitka made a 30-footer to beat the buzzer to end the second quarter and cut Poland’s deficit to six going into the break. The Russian lead was still seven late in the third, but Poland ended the game on a 29-17 run.
“It was a very difficult loss,” Russia guard Vitaly Fridzon said. “We controlled the game. … Devastating to lose like that. Maybe we lacked some luck.”
Russia coach Sergey Bazarevich said the free-throw disparity — Russia shot 19, half as many as Poland — was a major factor.
“If you look at the stats, we were better in everything,” Bazarevich said. “In every aspect, we were better.”
SERBIA 90, PUERTO RICO 47
At Wuhan, Serbia had no trouble with Puerto Rico on the way to remaining unbeaten and moving to the cusp of a quarterfinal berth.
Nemanja Bjelica scored 18 points, Boban Marjanovic scored 16 and Nikola Jokic finished with 14 for Serbia (4-0), which shot 56 percent. David Huertas scored 11 for Puerto Rico, which was held to 27 percent shooting.
“Not a lot to tell,” Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said.
Serbia is shooting 61 percent through four games so far at the World Cup. Jokic (20 for 24) and Marjanovic (19 for 23) are shooting a combined 83 percent.
FIBA confirmed that Australia is the second team to clinch a spot in next year’s Tokyo Olympics by being the top World Cup finisher from the Oceania region. Japan and Australia are now in the 12-team field. Another six spots will be decided by the end of this World Cup.
Nigeria (2-2) 83, Ivory Coast (0-4) 66
Iran (1-3) 71, Angola (1-3) 62
Argentina (3-0) vs. Venezuela (2-1); Spain (3-0) vs. Italy (2-1)
China (1-2) vs. South Korea (0-3); Tunisia (1-2) vs. Philippines (0-3)
U.S. (3-0) vs. Greece (2-1); France (3-0) vs. Lithuania (2-1); Brazil (3-0) vs. Czech Republic (2-1); Australia (3-0) vs. Dominican Republic (2-1)
New Zealand (1-2) vs. Japan (0-3); Canada (1-2) vs. Jordan (0-3); Turkey (1-2) vs. Montenegro (0-3); Germany (1-2) vs. Senegal (0-3)
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