Powerhouse France emerged as No. 1 team in Group B while Turkey clinched the last semifinals berth after defeating their respective rivals in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) late Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Les Bleus, led by National Basketball Association (NBA) players Tony Parker and Boris Diaw thumped the New Zealand Tall Blacks 66-59 to complete a two-game sweep in Group B.
“It was our bench that made the big difference in the second half. We didn’t play the right way in the first three quarters,” said French coach Vincent Collet, who expects NBA star Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets to step up against the Turks in the semifinals.
“He [Batum] will be playing,” Collet said. “I would like him to play earlier but it was not possible because we didn’t receive any guarantee from the NBA. He signed the contract today but there was no validation. We expect it tomorrow.”
Besides Batum, Diaw and Parker, Mickael Gelabale, who finished with 11 points in the game against the Kiwis, will provide additional firepower for the Les Bleus team.
The France vs Turkey match begins at 6:30 p.m. while the Canada vs New Zealand game follows at 9:00 p.m. tonight at the same venue.
Despite the loss, New Zealand still entered the semifinals because of its 89-80 victory over host Philippines on Wednesday.
Turkey survived Senegal 68-62 in a knockout match to bag the last final four slot.
Ali Muhammed led Turkey with 23 points; seven rebounds and four assists while Boston Celtics’ big man Semih Erden contributed 14 points.
Meanwhile, the Canadian team is expected to rely on Toronto Raptors guard Corey Joseph, Tyler Ennis of the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson when they battle the Tall Blacks.
Canada, under coach Jay Triano, swept group A after beating Turkey and Senegal.
The OQT finals is scheduled on Sunday evening.
JOSEF T. RAMOS