After failing to medal as the host of the 2014 FIBA World Cup and then finishing only with Bronze at the 2016 Olympics, Spain had lost a bit of luster as a world basketball power. With its core roster aging and no superstars coming up through the pipeline, most observers had moved on to younger groups like Serbia and France as the next great European teams. But on Sunday, Spain reasserted itself as a dominant basketball nation by winning the World Cup over Argentina 95-75.
Tournament MVP Ricky Rubio led the way with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but the story was Spain’s spectacular defense on one of the tournament’s standouts, Argentina’s Luis Scola. Scola was Argentina’s leading scorer throughout the tournament, but he shot just 1 of 10 from the field in this game. Marc Gasol, Spain’s defensive anchor, was critical in that effort.
Led by Gasol and Rubio, Spain went 8-0 throughout the tournament. Its first major statement win came in a 12-point victory over Serbia, one of the tournament’s favorites particularly after winning its first four games by an average of more than 40 points. After beating Poland in the quarterfinals, Spain faced Australia in what was by far its most difficult battle of the tournament.
The 95-88 victory over the Boomers took two overtimes. Patty Mills gave Australia a two-point lead with only 14 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, but Gasol calmly sank two free throws to tie the game once again. Spain won it a period later, and after dispatching Argentina, is now the World Cup champion.
This is the second World Cup victory for Spain, which also won the 2006 event. In both instances, Team USA had been knocked out of the tournament prior to playing against Spain, first by Greece in 2006, and this year by France. Team USA has been Spain’s Kryptonite on the world stage, beating them in consecutive Olympic gold medal games in 2008 and 2012 and in an exhibition match this year, but with the Americans out of the picture, Spain took care of business in bringing home the gold this time around.
Spain is now the fifth team to win multiple FIBA World Cups. The United States and the former Yugoslavia lead the way with five each, while the former Soviet Union has three and Brazil has two. Spain now has two as well, and the only other team ever to win the tournament was Argentina in 1950.
Though initially written off, Spain will now enter the 2020 Olympics as one of the biggest threats to Team USA. Its roster may be aging, but between it and Argentina, the World Cup was proof of just how important experience is on the world stage. Spain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.