The Italian national basketball team just accomplished something that they have failed to do for the last 25 years, clinching one of eight spots in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Quarterfinals.
Italy secured their spot in the final phase of the international basketball competition with a 73 – 57 win over Puerto Rico on Sunday morning. Stefano Tonut and Giampaolo Ricci led the way for the Italians in scoring with 15 points each, while Simone Fontecchio also added 12 points and 12 rebounds in the winning effort. Fontecchio’s double-double performance contributed to his 18.4 PPG and 6.6 RPG averages for the tournament, ranking fourth and eleventh in the competition in each category for forwards, respectively.
Italy took an early lead in the contest with the help of a 15-0 run in the first quarter but saw that lead evaporate in the third before retaking control with a 12-3 start in the fourth quarter. This is the 13th straight game that Italy has won against Puerto Rico in the tournament, as Puerto Rico only managed to beat them during the 1963 World Cup and was vying for their first trip to the quarterfinals since 2002 before Italy sent them home.
With the win, Italy (4-1) finished 1st in their group and will face the US in Tuesday’s quarterfinals in Manila. This is a big accomplishment for the country, which failed to qualify for the competition in 2002, 2010, and 2014. While Italy basketball has improved lately as evidenced by their 10th-place finish in the last FIBA tournament in 2019, they will be looking to secure their best World Cup finish since placing sixth in 1998 this year.
In addition to the top performers from today’s game, two players to watch for in the upcoming quarterfinals are Nicolò Melli and Luigi Datome. Datome has enjoyed a successful, 20-year basketball career overseas. Not only is he a three-time Lega Basket Serie A champion and former LBA MVP, but he has also spent some time in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics between 2013 and 2015. Today’s match was his 200th contest with the Italian national team, and what better way to celebrate than a place in the top eight?
“Good feeling to be in the top eight in the world. It was not an easy group. And we knew it would not be an easy game. But we played good and deserved to win. We created a lot of good shots. The ball didn’t go in at the beginning but we kept shooting with confidence. The bigs kept us alive with a lot of offensive rebounds. At the end of the day I think we deserved the win.”Italy forward Luigi Datome
Meanwhile, Nicolò Melli was in the NBA much more recently, playing for the New Orleans Pelicans from 2019 to 2021 in addition to a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks before joining Olimpia Milano.