Yugoslavia Edges Russia to Take Title
- By Howard Fendrich
- Aug. 11 1998 00:00
ATHENS, Greece -- Yugoslavia showed yet again it plays the best basketball this side of the NBA.
The European titlist captured its record fourth World Basketball Championship crown Sunday with a 64-62 comeback victory over Russia as Zeljko Rebraca led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The gold medal joins the ones Yugoslavia won at the 1970, 1978 and 1990 world championships. It was banned from the 1994 tournament because of war sanctions, but has since added two straight European golds and a silver behind the U.S. Dream Team at the 1996 Olympics.
"We had many problems, and players who weren't here. But we got this again,'' Yugoslav coach Zeljko Obradovic said, tugging on the gold medal hanging around his neck.
Dejan Bodiroga chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds and was named tournament MVP.
"There are 12 MVPs on our team,'' said Bodiroga, a guard who averaged 14.7 points and 4.9 rebounds over nine games.
"I'm very happy that I was voted MVP, but the most important thing is that we won the world championship and we are No. 1 in the world," he said.
They did it without Charlotte Hornets center Vlade Divac and injured former NBA player Predrag Danilovic.
Sergei Panov and Igor Koudellin had 14 points a piece for Russia, which was undone by cold shooting down the stretch and settles for its second straight silver medal.
For the United States on Saturday it was too much to ask.
The crew of castoffs defending the U.S. title at the World Basketball Championship could not produce one more escape and lost to Russia 66-64 in the semifinals.
Yugoslavia, for its part, needed overtime to get past Greece 78-73.
Dejan Bodiroga had 31 points and Zeljko Rebraca added 20 points and 13 rebounds for the European champion, who overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half.
Russia also staged a late rally, coming back from 10 points down and winning when Sergei Panov drove the length of the court to score the winning layup with 4 seconds left.
Wendell Alexis banked in a desperate 30-foot shot that would have won the game for the ragtag Americans, but he released the ball just after the final buzzer.
"It was the chance of a lifetime for us,'' U.S. center David Wood said. "The guys are devastated. It wasn't because of a lack of effort. [Russia] played like a veteran team.''
So did Yugoslavia after Greece -- backed by a capacity crowd of 18,000 at Olympic arena -- opened up its biggest lead of the game at 48-36 with 11:00 remaining. But Yugoslavia clawed back thanks to some poor foul shooting by Greece, which finished 11-for-22 from the line.