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June 24, 2017

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Italy reigns as only unbeaten team at Euro champs

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- Advancing through the first round as the only undefeated team, Italy has provided the unexpected at the European basketball championships.

More surprisingly, though, Russia and Turkey are going home.

Italy was in what, on paper at least, appeared to be the most difficult group.

Russia won the Olympic bronze medal last year and also took the bronze at the European titles two years ago. Turkey was runner-up at the 2010 world championship at home.

But Italy beat both Russia and Turkey to finish atop the group, ahead of Finland and Greece. Finland is in the second round for the second straight time, while Russia and Turkey were left to ponder what went wrong. Russia never overcame the absence of Andrei Kirilenko, while Turkey went out despite having three NBA players, Hidayet Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik. Turkey remains unable to make an impact away from home.

In the final games of Group D, Italy maintained its unbeaten run with a 82-79 victory over Sweden, Finland defeated Greece 86-77 and Russia salvaged some pride by beating Turkey 89-77.

Spain, the defending champion, lost its opening match to Slovenia, then regrouped and dominated the next four. France, which lost the final to Spain two years ago, also began with a loss — to a German team without Dirk Nowitzki.

France, loaded with NBA players led by the San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker, also rallied strongly and won its group, ahead of Ukraine and Belgium.

"We know that we have had a good first round, with one lost game against Slovenia, so we know that we have to correct some things and we are ready for whatever is about to come," Spain's point guard Ricky Rubio said after scoring 16 points in an 83-59 victory over Georgia on Monday.

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