BEIJING Andrew Bogut individually and the Australian men's basketball team as a whole made a statement to the naysayers Down Under, sending a message to soon-to-be-departing Russia at the same time with a 95-80 Group A victory Saturday.
Criticized after opening qualifying play with a pair of lackluster losses, Bogut and the Aussies came back in a big way, with Bogut scoring 22 points to lead Australia over the 2007 EuroBasket champs.
"A lot of people have doubted us along the way," Bogut said. "No one believes in us but us."
With the win, Australia (2-2) earned a berth in Tuesday's quarterfinals. And with the loss, Russia (1-3) has no hopes making the medal round, playing Monday's pool finale against Argentina for pride only.
In fact, the whole quarterfinal field is set for next Wednesday, with China's 59-55 evening victory over Germany clinching a spot for the hosts.
The four quarterfinals from Group A are Lithuania, Argentina, Croatia and Australia, and from Group B, the United States, Spain, Greece and China. Monday's games will help set seeding.
But back to Bogut leading the Aussies.
"Individual performance means nothing in the Olympic Games," said Bogut, whose 8-of-13 shooting included a pair of 3-pointers and who added a team-high eight rebounds as well as two assists and a steal.
"We simply learned from two bad games," he added. "It was a great game for me, but the most important thing is that we're going to the next round of the Olympics."
While the former University of Utah star and former top pick in the NBA Draft was shining, Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's shooting mirrored the struggles of Russia (1-3), which has dropped its last three games.
Kirilenko managed just six points on 1-of-10 shooting, adding six boards, five assists, three steals and a blocked shot. Viktor Khryapa led Russia with 21 points, and J.R. Holden added 20.
"At the beginning of the game, we did not concentrate enough on defense and made many turnovers, Kirilenko said. "As we lose too much in the first half, it is too late for us to catch up at the second."
Australia led by 11 points after one quarter and by 16 at intermission. Russia started the second half with a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to seven, but Australia which never trailed eventually led by as many as 21 points before settling for the 15-point final margin.
Both teams have something to fight for in Monday's pool finales.
Despite qualifying for the quarterfinals, Australia wants to beat Lithuania (4-0) to avoid having to match up against powerhouse USA in the next round.
And Russia would like nothing better than to depart Beijing on a winning note, beating defending Olympic champion and streaking Argentina (3-1).
"We will try out best to win the game," Kirilenko said.
In other games:
GREECE 102, ANGOLA 61: Ionnis Bourousis hit all nine of his shots from the floor en route to a team-high 22 points to lead the Greeks, who shook off a first-quarter scare to improve to 2-2 in Group B.
Eduardo Mingas finished with a game-high 23 points for Angola (0-4).
LITHUANIA 86, CROATIA 73: Lithuania (4-0) erased a four-point deficit by starting the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run en route to the 13-point Group A victory over Croatia (2-2).
Mindaugas Lukauskis and Linas Kleiza combined to shoot 13-of-19 including 7-of-10 behind the arc as the former logged a game-high 20 points and the latter added 18.
Roko-Leni Ukic paced Croatia with 13 points.
ARGENTINA 97, IRAN 82: The defending Olympic champions won their third straight and clinched a quarterfinal berth by beating Iran (0-4), which is making its first Olympics basketball appearance in 60 years.
Argentina (3-1) was led by Manu Ginobili, whose 32 points came on 6-of-8 shooting inside the arc and 4-of-6 outside, with Luis Scola adding 20 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Iran's Hamed Ehadadi played all 40 minutes, scoring 21 points and grabbing a game-best 16 boards.
CHINA 59, GERMANY 55: Yao Ming scored 25 points and hauled in 11 rebounds as host China (2-2) earned a quarterfinal berth by beating Germany (1-3). But the Chinese almost squandered another double-digit lead, as the Germans whittled a 13-point deficit with six minutes to play to just two in the closing minute.
Yao was China's only player to score in double figures, although Yi Jianlian added nine points and 11 boards.While China mustered only 33 percent FG shooting, Germany fared worse, with its 18-of-62 effort coming in at 29 percent. Dirk Nowitzki paced the Germans with 24 points and 17 boards.