France made light of the absence of Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, and Mickael Pietrus and pulled off a 72-66 victory over defending world champion Spain Saturday in the opening round of the FIBA World Championship.
They played lock-down defense and hit 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. Point Andrew Albicy - filling in for Parker and injured Dallas Maverick Rodrigue Beaubois -- made five fourth-quarter free throws, the last two with 16 seconds left as white-clad French fans chanted his name.
"The free throws condemned us," said Spaniard Felipe Reyes said. He added the loss was "a learning experience," echoing other team personnel who said more focus at the end of upcoming games is imperative.
Mickael Gelabale led France with 16 points, Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trailblazers scored 14 and Albicy had 13.
Spain built a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, but France used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 25. French coach Vincent Collet said. "We were not very good offensively in the first minutes, but then we picked it up."
The game was taut through much of the second half, and at times chippy.
A stout halfcourt pick by Florent Pietrus left Spanish point guard Rubio crumpled on the floor with 8:53 left in the third quarter, holding his head in apparent anguish. Many in the crowd nearly filling the 10,000-person Halkapinar Arena booed. The 19-year-old stood up and played on.
Rubio helped tie the game at 53 with less than four minutes left when he ran off a teammate's three-point line screen, then threw a no-look pass over his left shoulder while reverse pivoting on his right foot. Felipe Reyes caught it, and hit a three.
Spain got no closer. A traveling call on Juan Carlos Navarro, who led Spain with 17 points, and a Batum three-pointer pushed France's lead to 58-53. With Spain down 58-53, Rudy Fernandez of the Portland Trailblazers fouled out with 1:30 left after receiving a technical.
Spain's head coach Sergio Scariolo attributed the win to France's suffocating defense down the stretch. He added: "The French players were more calm in the key moments."
Starting slowly in a major tournament only to ultimately win it is nothing new for this Spanish team. It lost its first and fourth games of the 2009 Eurobasket before winning it all. Along the way, it knocked off France 86-66 in the quarterfinals, handing Les Bleus their only loss of the tournament.
France and Spain are part of Group D, which includes New Zealand (0-1), Canada (0-1), Lithuania (1-0) and Lebanon (1-0). France plays Lebanon Sunday, and Spain plays New Zealand.