Argentina routs Lithuania 102-79 in Olympic hoops

Those Argentina legs still looked young while running past

Lithuania.

Luis Scola scored 32 points, Manu Ginobili had 21 points, 10

rebounds and six assists a day after turning 35, and Argentina

opened the Olympic men’s basketball tournament with a 102-79

victory on Sunday night.

Playing poorly by their standards during exhibition play and

considered too old by many others to be viewed as a top medal

threat anymore, the Argentines denied wanting to use their opener

to send any kind of message.

”I think the message is that we are old but we can play,

something like that,” said Scola, now with the Phoenix Suns.

”We didn’t want to show nothing to nobody. We weren’t playing

well in the preparation. We weren’t feeling well, we got this

feeling that it’s not going well, we need to do something, we’ve

got to play better, we’ve got to move faster, we’ve got to have a

little bit more of a spark, so we needed to have this game.”

Carlos Delfino finished with 20 points for the Argentines in a

rematch of their 87-75 victory over Lithuania in the bronze-medal

game four years ago in Beijing.

It was an impressive start for the 2004 gold medalists, who have

faced questions if the run is over for the ”Golden Generation”

that has been an international power for the last decade.

That certainly seemed the case two years ago in the

quarterfinals of the World Championship, when Lithuania rolled by

Argentina in a 104-85 victory. Lithuania hit nine of its first 11

3-pointers and sent Argentina to its earliest exit at a major

tournament since 2000.

”We remembered the game in Turkey, quarterfinal in Turkey that

day, first quarter they killed us,” said 35-year-old, New York

Knicks-bound point guard Pablo Prigioni. ”So we have that game in

our head and we go on the court thinking that that cannot

happen.”

But Ginobili didn’t play in that tournament and having him back

now gives Argentina the inside-out tandem of Scola and Ginobili

that has combined for so many international victories.

Scola and other several other key players are in their 30s,

though looked in top condition while breaking open the game over

the middle two quarters and even occasionally – though not often –

managing to somewhat quiet the cheering, chanting Lithuania crowd

that began making noise even before the previous game at the

Basketball Arena was over.

”I felt very good,” said Ginobili, set to face San Antonio

Spurs teammate Tony Parker of France on Tuesday. ”Of course the

adrenaline at the beginning of an Olympic games kind of makes you

forget everything, the aches, the pain and age. So felt very

energetic, very proud of my teammates. It was a wonderful

game.”

Linas Kleiza, who plays with the Toronto Raptors, scored 20 for

Lithuania.

Up 24-23 after one, Argentina got hot from the 3-point line and

scored 27 points in the second quarter, taking a 51-39 lead into

halftime on Delfino’s 3-pointer as time expired. The Argentines

then scored seven in a row, Delfino and Ginobili making layups

before Delfino buried a 3-pointer, extending a 13-point cushion to

63-43 with 6:51 remaining in the third.

The Argentines gave the U.S. a good test in an exhibition game

last week in Barcelona, Spain, trimming an early 20-point deficit

to four in the final minutes before falling 86-80, and hopes to

have locked up a quarterfinal berth before the teams meet again

next Monday in their final game of Group A play. They face another

tough opponent Tuesday in France, with Ginobili joking he would

tell his teammates to fog up the goggles that Spurs teammate Tony

Parker is wearing to protect a recent eye injury.

Argentina and Lithuania met in their opener for the second

straight Olympics. Lithuania won 79-75 to start things in Beijing

but never could slow down Argentina in this one.