(Reuters) - Holders United States and dark horses Slovenia eased into the basketball World Cup knockout stages with two games to spare but eastern European giants Lithuania left themselves with work to do after a surprise defeat by Australia on Tuesday.
Unfancied Ukraine produced the day’s other upset with a 64-58 defeat of Turkey while the Dominican Republic boosted their own hopes after a 74-68 success against Finland.
The Americans looked a little fazed as New Zealand’s Tall Blacks performed their traditional pre-game haka, but showed no nerves in a one-sided contest as Anthony Davis led the charge with 21 points and nine rebounds in a 98-71 rout.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who criticised his team after a tepid first-half display in Sunday’s 98-77 win over Turkey, praised his men this time and singled out New Orleans Pelicans centre Davis.
“It was a good, solid performance and I thought the intensity was excellent,” the 67-year old from Chicago, who has won four NCAA titles with Duke University, told reporters.
“We beat a team that really executes well and plays hard every second they are out there.
“Anthony is one of the best players in the world. We saw that developing in the (2012) Olympics, and I think him being around all those great players helped him.”
With the NBA’s top players declining invitations to play in the World Cup, a weakened but hungry-looking U.S. team were helped by 12 points apiece from Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Slovenia enjoyed a comfortable 89-72 win over South Korea as Phoenix Suns playmaker Goran Dragic nailed 10 of his 14 shots from the field to finish with a game-high 22 points.
With host nation Spain and Greece advancing on Monday, the battle for the remaining 12 knockout stage berths is set to go down to the wire in all four preliminary pools.
Lithuania, bronze medalists in 2010, were expected to cruise into the last 16 but got a rude awakening from a spirited Australia side who survived a second-half onslaught to earn an 82-75 victory.
Forward Joe Ingles racked up 18 points and four assists for the Australians, who will progress from a finely balanced group if they win one of their two remaining games against Mexico and Angola.
The exertions of holding their own for three quarters against the United States seemed to have worn down Turkey, who were undone by Ukraine’s long-range shooting in a physical, low-scoring contest.
Guard Olexandr Mishula came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points in an international game, including five three-pointers as the Ukrainians nailed a total of 10 shots behind the arc.
“It’s the best I have done with this team but that doesn’t matter at all, the important thing is that the team won,” the 22-year-old BC Dnipro player told the competition’s official website (www.fiba.com).
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime to do something for the team and they needed me on this day.”
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Toby Davis