CARACAS (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament) - Russia have qualified for their third Olympic Games, surviving a late scare from a relentless Nigeria to prevail 85-77 in the Semi-Finals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The European bronze medallists looked unstoppable as they opened up a 20-point third-quarter lead, with Andrei Kirilenko (19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) - awarded Tissot player of the game award - in everything as usual.
Vitaliy Fridzon (15 points, 3 assists) was also superb, while Alexey Shved (22 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) was a force offensively but struggled with Nigeria's long-armed press, which brought them within touching distance in the final term.
As in the Quarter-Finals, Ike Diogu (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Ade Dagunduro (16 points, 5 assists) led the way for Nigeria, while Al-Farouq Aminu was prominent with 13 points but coughed up seven turnovers.
As has been their trademark in this tournament, Russia turned the defensive screws in the second term, holding Nigeria scoreless in the final five minutes to build a 46-31 half-time lead.
In the third quarter it looked as if Russia had all the answers as the margin stretched to 20, but the Nigerians showed signs of life late in the term as Chamberlain Oguchi nailed a running buzzer-beater.
The Africans' charge came early in the final period as Al Farouq, Dagunduro and Diogu all stood tall and the Russian turnovers began to mount.
When Al Farouq buried a triple the gap was 10, then Dagunduro finished a tough three-point play over two defenders to bring the crowd to life.
When Nigeria's press forced Russia's 20th turnover Dagunduro skied for an athletic open-court basket and the score was 73-67 with 4:54 to play.
But ill-discipline would cost them dearly, first allowing Kirilenko a gift three-point play and then fouling Shved 30-feet from the basket for two bonus free throws.
A sweet Dagunduro fade-away reduced the margin to six with 1:43 to play, but Fridzon answered immediately from long range to give Russia the buffer they needed.
In the end, Nigeria simply ran out of time and Russia celebrated their hard-earned passage to London.
The Dominican Republic now await Nigeria on Sunday for the final place at the London Olympics.
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