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ATHENS (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men) - Slovenia had to survive a terrific comeback by Korea to win 88-76 on the first day of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Athens.
Captain Rasho Nesterovic, who will retire from the national team after this summer, had 26 points to lead his team to victory while Kim Joo Sung paced the Koreans with 21.
Nesterovic and Co looked to be on course for an easy triumph after opening up a 21-point lead in the third quarter.
But Korea coach Kim Nam-gi kept his players fully focused and they trimmed the deficit to just five in the final period.
When Oh Sekeun banked in a 10-footer to cut the gap to 72-67, the Slovenians had to call a timeout to stem the tide.
Once play resumed, Korea had two chances to reduce the deficit even more but failed.
Slovenia then struck twice.
Jaka Lakovic penetrated into the lane and scored before Goran Dragic came up with a steal and sprinted ahead of the Korean defense for a fast-break lay-up and a nine-point advantage.
Kim Minsoo banked in a three-pointer to make it 76-70 with 3:21 to play but Korea got no closer.
“Korea have a very good team,” Dragic said.
“We didn’t know too much about them and they came back but the important thing is that we won.”
Korea center Ha Seung Jin, who spent most of his time in the NBA on the bench with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Milwaukee Bucks before choosing to return to Asia to play, said: “We just haven’t played many internationals but we’ll get better.
“This team is definitely going to be better in the future and we’ll do our best against Canada.”
Canada coach Leo Rautins and his staff were in the stands looking on and will have noticed the Koreans’ 11 of 21 effort from three-point range.
Six different Koreans, in fact, hit three-pointers led by Kim Minsoo’s three of five performance.
Meanwhile, the 2.22m Ha – the biggest player at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament - expressed his desire to go to back and play in the NBA and live in America because of the “bigger cars and bigger shoes”.
Slovenia’s Dragic wasn’t sure if he’d make it over this year.
“I don’t know,” Dragic said.
San Antonio drafted me but then traded me to Phoenix, and there would also have to be a buyout at my club, Tau (Ceramica).
“It would be great to play in Phoenix and learn from a point guard like Steve Nash. We’ll see.”