By Zoran Milosavljevic
(Reuters) - Brazil and Argentina kept alive their dreams of rekindling past glories after winning in contrasting fashion to reach the basketball World Cup last 16 with a match to spare on Wednesday.
Australia and Lithuania also booked their knockout-stage berths on a frantic penultimate day of the preliminary group stage, with holders United States and hosts Spain enjoying comfortable wins after sealing their passage earlier.
Winners in 1959 and 1963, Brazil stayed on course for a first podium finish since 1978 with a rollercoaster 81-73 win over Serbia, having trailed in the second half after squandering a 16-point halftime lead.
Argentina, the 2002 tournament runners-up and the 2004 Olympic champions, romped to an 81-46 mauling of surprise package Senegal on the back of 22 points and 14 rebounds from Indiana Pacers forward Luis Scola.
A strong third quarter helped Australia to a 70-62 win over Mexico while an unlikely source carried Lithuania to a 79-49 rout of South Korea.
Playing in his first major tournament at senior level, guard Adas Juskevicius came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points for the Lithuanians after netting a modest total of 17 in the opening three games.
The 25-year old playmaker nailed six three-pointers from seven attempts to keep the Baltic nation in contention for top spot in their pool, which would likely ensure they avoid the U.S. before the semi-finals.
The Americans improved their record to 4-0 with a 106-71 defeat of the Dominican Republic in Bilbao after Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried capped another impressive performance with 16 points and six rebounds.
Spain, who are packed with NBA talent and the tournament’s joint favourites along with the U.S., brushed aside European champions France 88-64 in Granada.
Missing their four-time NBA champion Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, the French were undone by Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol and his brother Marc, who toyed with their rivals at both ends of the court.
The final 12 games of the preliminary group stage will be played on Thursday. The knockout stages start on Saturday when the fiercely competitive tournament moves to Madrid and Barcelona.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; editing by Toby Davis)