By Zoran Milosavljevic
(Reuters) - Holders United States and hosts Spain ended the Basketball World Cup preliminary stage with 5-0 records after emphatic wins on Thursday against modest opposition in the first knockout round of the 24-team event.
The U.S. strolled to a 95-71 victory over Ukraine that sent the eastern Europeans home and next face what should be another easy ride against Mexico who clinched a last-16 berth with an 87-71 triumph over South Korea.
Spain beat Serbia 89-73 to set up a meeting with surprise packages Senegal who went through despite an 81-79 overtime defeat by the eliminated Philippines. Croatia progressed thanks to a 103-82 victory over Puerto Rico.
The Croatians play European champions France for a quarter-final place while Brazil, who enjoyed the biggest win of the tournament with a 128-65 rout of Egypt, face arch-rivals Argentina in another mouth-watering tie.
Having sealed their passage with two games to spare, the Americans trailed Ukraine at the end of the first quarter and gave their battling rivals hope they could pull off a major upset.
The holders then moved up a gear and ran out easy winners on the back of 17 points from James Harden and 16 by Stephen Curry, with four of their team mates also finishing in double-scoring digits.
"It was a rough start for us tonight. We started off a little slow," Golden State Warriors guard Curry told reporters.
"But our effort and intensity was there and that was the mission coming in. Take each game one at a time, try to get better every game, and I think we accomplished that."
Two successive defeats put Croatia on the brink of elimination but their top players stepped up as shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic collected 23 points and forward Dario Saric added 15 against the disjointed Puerto Ricans.
Needing a win to progress, Puerto Rico fell behind 13-0 and never recovered as their slack defending did the damage against a talented Croatian outfit.
"We played a tremendous first half and put in the kind of performance we needed yesterday in a sloppy defeat by Greece but the important thing is we are through to the last 16," said 20-year-old prodigy Saric.
Greece will lock horns with old rivals Serbia after a 79-71 win over Argentina stretched their perfect record to five wins while Lithuania edged out Slovenia 67-64 to snatch top spot in their section.
The Lithuanians play New Zealand in the last 16, Slovenia take on the Dominican Republic and Turkey clash with Australia after advancing with a 77-64 victory over the Dominicans.
The tournament now moves from the four preliminary stage venues to Madrid and Barcelona, with the first knockout round games taking place on Saturday and Sunday.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)