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France, Russia advance to meet in semifinals
KAUNAS, LITHUANIA (AP) - David Blatt, Russia's American coach, has given up trying to fit Andrei Kirilenko into a system. Let the forward do what he does best, which is to follow his instinct around the basketball court.
That approach worked Thursday. Kirilenko had 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals for undefeated Russia, which beat Serbia 77-67 to line up a semifinal against France at the European basketball championship.
Tony Parker scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as France rallied to beat Greece 64-56.
Spain and Macedonia will play in the other semifinal on Friday.
Blatt, seeking to guide Russia to its second title since 2007, described Kirilenko's game as "unbelievable" and compared the Utah Jazz free agent to a "beautiful wild horse."
"He's best when he's running around the court and he's free. Most of his best plays come from instinct. I try to tell him a little about how to play, but it only seems to bother him," Blatt said.
"You can't teach or coach what he does, and you can't prepare against him. Thank God he's on my side."
Victor Khryapa and Andrey Vorontsevich added 11 points apiece for Russia.
Serbia beat Russia in the quarters two years ago before losing to Spain in the gold medal game. But Russia was without Kirilenko and Khryapa then.
Serbia missed guards Milenko Tepic and Aleksandar Rasic on Thursday because of back injuries. Center Nenad Krstic played 25 minutes with a sore hip and finished with 13 points.
Point guard Milos Teodosic scored 20 points for Serbia, but also ended with nine turnovers and missed two 3-point attempts late in the game.
"Russia scored 19 points from our turnovers and 18 from second chances and that's what lost us the game," Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic said.
"They were fast, aggressive and they jumped all over us," forward Dusko Savanovic said.
In the early game, Greece led 43-40 going into the fourth quarter but Parker scored four straight points to cap an 8-0 run and France never lost the lead again. France outscored Greece 24-13 in the final period.
"I've worked too hard this summer and the last 10 years to let it end now," said Parker, the San Antonio Spurs star who is seeking to lead this generation of talented French players to their country's first title.
Ioannis Bourousis, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, kept Greece in the game until Nicolas Batum, the Portland Trail Blazers small forward, made two straight baskets with a block in between to make it a six-point game with just over a minute to go.
A pair of free throws by Nikolaos Zisis gave Greece some hope. After Parker and center Joakim Noah missed shots, Greece lost the ball and fouled Nando de Colo, who made both free throws. Noah then stole the ball, was fouled and made both free throws. De Colo finished with 16 points and Batum added 15.
"They really broke our rhythm at the start. They pretty much put us to sleep," Parker said. "But we got into the third quarter well and we never doubted that we would win."
The two finalists of this tournament will clinch slots at next year's Olympics in London. The next four teams will go to an additional qualifying tournament next year, with three advancing to the games.
The semifinalists are certain of at least a place in the qualifying tournament.
"This was our first goal, now we want to go straight to the Olympics," France coach Vincent Collet said.
Greece coach Ilias Zouros said his team ultimately paid the price for being less experienced.
"When you don't score you have to stop them quickly and we didn't do that even though we had few team fouls," Zouros said.
Greece and Serbia will play for a place in the top six. The winner will play Lithuania for fifth place. Lithuania beat Slovenia 80-77.
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