Lithuania booked their place in the quarter-finals of the FIBA World Championships with a 78-67 win over China. Linas Kleiza hit a game-high 30 points for the Baltic giants who will meet Argentina on Thursday in what could be an epic quarter-final.

However it took a second half surge before Kestutis Kemzura’s men shook off the resistance of the Chinese who battled hard to exceed expectations here in the absence of Yao Ming.

“I am happy that we won,” Kemzura said, “but not happy about the way we played at times.”

Their opponents started fastest, pushing 16-5 ahead as Lithuania had yet another poor start. “I said some words that I cannot pronounce here,” admitted Kemzura. Words that included playing better defence, he revealed. But Wei Liu was outstanding, the point guard hitting 5 of his team-high 21 points in the first period as Bob Donewald’s young team looked to produce an upset.

But Mantas Kalnietis sparked a Lithuanian surge in the second as a 15-2 run saw them seize control. Only Liu held them back, pulling China’s strings.

“I asked him if he needed a break,” said Donewald. China hung on, trailing just 43-40 at half-time. But the dam burst and their challenge fell away.

They were out-scoring 23-11 in the third as Kleiza dominated. “We’ll take confidence and experience from this,” Donewald conceded. But he knows his men must get stronger and smarter. They could not contend and the large bouncing hordes from Lithuania roared their side home.

They will face a much harder foe in Argentina who survived a truly gripping encounter with Brazil – but only just – Luis Scola scoring 37 points, including 10 in the last period, in a dramatic 93-89 victory.

It was a titantic battle between South America’s two titans, the sides duelling it out like two banditos shooting for supremacy before one side was left standing.

After a series of lop-sided blow-outs, a tight, edgy and enthralling battle was just what was required in the last of the second round ties and the teams delivered, the energetic young Brazilians unafraid to take the fight to their more experienced foes.

Luis Scola dominated - again

Although his team briefly trailed by 6 in the opening forays, Marcelo Huertas, Brazil’s playmaker, suggested there may still be time for him to join his compatriots in the NBA with a terrific first quarter when he scored 10 of his 32 points as the rivals were deadlocked at 25-25.

As scores were frenetically exchanged and leads traded, Huertas made sure his team kept on running and their fast break policy paid ample dividends. After an Argentine flurry, his four-point play drew Brazil level late in the period before he delivered a 48-46 half-time cushion.

And a 7-0 start to the third had Sergio Hernandez’s men looking vulnerable in spite of Fabricio Oberto’s return. Still, where there is Luis Scola, there is always hope. The Houston centre hit two from the line to make it 64-64 with 36 seconds left in the quarter and although the Brazilian’s nudged ahead again, Carlos Delfino drove in a left-handed lay-up to restore the stalemate entering the fourth.

The rowdy enraptured posse of Argentine fans behind the basket leapt to their feet to encourage one final surge. The tiny cluster of Brazilians in the upper tier could not match that.

But they saw Leandro Barbosa immediately hit a three-pointer to keep the pressure at its highest and the Toronto Raptors off-season arrival repeated the feat moments later.

‘So what?’ said Argentina, with Hernan Jasen converting from deep to level at 72-72 with 8 minutes remaining. Shaking off the lack of production off the bench, they sought a decisive surge but they were held back each time, an 81-77 advantage far from enough.

Tiago Splitter cut that back with two foul shots but, entering the final 2 minutes, Scola drained a jumper that drew a nervous cheer. With each passing second came a held breath in two lands 10,000 kilometres from here.

When Jaren fouled out with 15 points, he looked distraught. Marcela Machado converted two more as the gap stood at 85-84 with 1.26 to go.

Scola was not done. Off balance, he shot over Anderson Varejao, almost one-handed and then Argentina forced a turnover to leave their destiny in their own hands. And with 24 seconds left, he downed yet another perfect fadeaway, punching both fists in the air.

“I know that the team is going to look for me at the end of the game,” Scola said. “I guarantee that there have been games when I’ve missed shots and there will be more. Bu today I was able to make those shots.”

Splitter hit from inside as Brazil exploded up court but desperate acts were needed as they trailed 89-86. One final time-out. One last go.

Delfino was quickly fouled – and his aim was sure both times. Huertas had one final trick to prolong the drama by netting an off-balance three-point shot over the outstretched arms of Scola.

With 1.2 seconds left, Argentina could finally exhale, Scola – who hit every shot he took in the fourth quarter – downing his final two points sealing a brilliant victory. They hugged. They saluted their fans, who bounced up and down. The spring is back in their step.

“We keep fighting to win games,” Scola added. “And in two days, we will have the chance to fight to be in the semi-finals of the worlds again.”

Not so for Brazil for whom this has been a tale of glorious failure.

“We only lost to the USA by 2 points and no-one else has come that close,” Huertas reflected. “We lost narrowly to Slovenia. And today we came close against one of the best teams in the world.” They now depart. “We’re sad,” he admitted. “But we’re happy at the same time because we showed we are a good team.”

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