Argentina, Spain aging but not done yet in men's basketball

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Together, they helped shove the U.S. from the top of the world in men's basketball.

Argentina and Spain produced their greatest generations at the same time, icons who were capable of beating the mighty Americans. They once did in the same tournament - on U.S. soil.

''Two of the best teams of the last decade for sure,'' Argentina's Manu Ginobili said. ''Last 15 years, I would say.''

Argentina won an Olympic gold medal. Spain has a world basketball championship.

They meet again Monday, maybe too old to be considered gold medal contenders but too proud to be counted out. They know people looking at the gray in their hair - or in Ginobili's case, the ever-growing bald patch - think their run is over, and even the Argentines themselves insist their only goal here was reaching the quarterfinals.

''Kind of like the same situation for them,'' Spain's Jose Calderon said. ''You're always saying, `Oh that's it, this is the last tournament' and they play again. They play again, and they keep playing. And like I say, I think until you don't see us out there anymore, you've just got to play with everything you've got.''

They meet in a game with huge implications. Argentina (3-1) is tied with Lithuania atop Group B and Spain has clawed back from a 0-2 start with two straight wins, pounding Lithuania 109-59 on Saturday. But the silver medalists in the last two Olympics still face the prospects of meeting the U.S. in the quarterfinals - or not advancing at all.

''Spain is supposed to be one of the best teams in the tournament and now they're going to be facing elimination if we beat them,'' Argentina's Luis Scola said. ''Obviously nobody thought it was going to be like that. They've got a team full of talent and I think they were, we all were expecting them to fight for medals, which I think that they can still do.''

Both teams emerged after the U.S. had been untouchable for a decade following the debut of NBA players in international tournaments. Spain and Argentina knocked off the Americans in the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, when Argentina became the first team to beat a U.S. squad with NBA players on its way to winning the silver medal.

They beat the Americans again two years later in the semifinals of the Olympics before capturing gold, and reached No. 1 in the world. Spain then won gold in 2006 at the world championships, edging Argentina in the semifinals, and took home silver in 2008 and 2012 after falling to the U.S. in gold-medal game classics.

It seemed over for Argentina after the latter, when it fell to Russia in the bronze-medal game. Age had set in for the Golden Generation and even Scola believed the Argentines' time had passed after they went out weakly in the 2014 Basketball World Cup.

But Ginobili returned this year at 39 with Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino, two other veterans from 2004, and suddenly they're two wins from another medal. Nocioni carried the Argentines through much of their 111-107, double-overtime victory over Brazil on Saturday with 37 points.

''I know the talent of course,'' Brazil coach Ruben Magnano, who coached the Argentines to their Olympic gold, said through an interpreter. ''I'm very curious this time because apart from their will to win, which is bigger than anything that you can even describe, they (want) to do great things. It doesn't matter if it's old or young. They just know about basketball.''

Spain was considered a medal favorite after winning another European title last summer, but it's a team in transition. Pau Gasol remains a force inside, but the longtime backcourt of Calderon, a four-time Olympian, and Juan Carlos Navarro, in his fifth Olympics, spends more time on the bench behind young guards Ricky Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull.

Refusing to be written off after two losses, they can still write their own ending.

''I think people want really - I'm not saying really want us to lose, but it's been too long for Spain to have this run,'' Calderon said. ''That's why they've been talking about this generation and all that stuff. We know every year passes by and it's more difficult, but we know each other and we know what we can do together. Yes, we're older, but we're still a really good team.''

Same with the Argentines, who may have to readjust their goals for their final run - unless this really isn't the end.

''I'm 36. This is my fourth Olympics,'' Scola said. ''I never thought I'd get this far and I'm enjoying it. It's probably going to be the last. I'll try to make it for 40, but probably I won't make it.''

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Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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