BUENOS AIRES, AUG. 19 -- Yugoslavia won the World Basketball Championships tonight, rolling past the Soviet Union, 92-75, and clearly establishing that the top of the hill in international basketball is smack in the middle of Belgrade.
It was the Yugoslavians' second straight major triumph -- they won the Goodwill Games in Seattle last month. Put simply, they were the class of the field here, by a long shot.
"This is without doubt the best generation ever of Yugoslavian basketball players," said Coach Dusan Ivkovic.
The United States took third place Saturday with an overtime victory over Puerto Rico. Alonzo Mourning accepted the trophy for a team that at times played brilliantly, at times sloppily, but was no match for the Yugoslavs, who had won the teams' semifinal meeting, 99-91.
Tonight the Yugoslavs won with their familiar pattern -- guard Drazen Petrovic of the Portland Trail Blazers providing cool leadership and a timely three-pointer; forward Toni Kukoc penetrating and passing, mostly to forward Zarko Paspalj; center Vlade Divac of the Los Angeles Lakers doing just as much as he had to to keep the Soviets from getting ideas about coming inside.
Petrovic finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Paspalj had 16 points, most of them from in the lane, while Kukoc scored 14 and handed out four assists.
The Yugoslavs might not be able to beat the Boston Celtics of old, but that's whom they seem to emulate -- lots of ball movement, lots of movement without the ball, good eyes and hands, and an emphasis on finding the open man.
When things break down there's always Petrovic to take over, or Kukoc to drive and create something. Their passes are crisp, their concentration impressive. They look to run whenever they can. Like all good teams, at times they make the game look absurdly simple.
The Yugoslavs had already blown out the Soviets once in this tournament, 100-77, and tonight's game began like a rerun. They took a quick 15-point lead, with Divac and Kukoc working pretty little give-and-go's underneath, one on a touch pass by Divac bringing a gasp from the crowd at jam-packed Luna Park auditorium.
Soviet Coach Vladas Garastas took a well-advised timeout. His stars, forward Alexander Volkov and center Valeri Tikhonenko, looked leaden and out of sync. The Soviet team couldn't score, couldn't catch up to loose balls. By halftime, Yugoslavia led, 52-34.
The Soviet team stayed in the locker room so long that they didn't even get to take warm-ups at the beginning of the second half. But Volkov woke up, scoring 12 of his 15 points after intermission on muscle moves in the lane and two three-pointers. Tikhonenko scored all 11 of his points in the second half, most coming during a run in which the Soviets cut the lead to seven.
The Yugoslavs missed a couple of easy layups and threw a few lazy passes. But then the focus returned, with Kukoc running the show.
Midway through the second half, the lead was back to 17.
Kukoc punctuated the evening with a thundering dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. After the buzzer the players unceremoniously lifted Ivkovic, an every-hair-in-place sort of coach, over their heads.
The favorites had won. Still, the tournament held some surprises.
The Puerto Ricans played brilliantly, as in their victories over Yugoslavia and the United States. But in the semifinals they lost to a Soviet Union team they had beaten in the Goodwill Games, and in the third-place game they allowed the United States to climb back in and win in overtime.
The Soviets won through consistency rather than brilliance, obviously missing the talented Lithuanian players who now decline to play. The U.S. team did about as well as expected. The international competition has long been beefier and more experienced, but now features some players -- especially the Yugoslavian starting five -- who have NBA-style moves to boot. SOVIET UNION (75)
Volkov 5-10 3-4 15, Tikhonenko 3-11 3-3 11, Belostenni 3-6 1-1 7, Vetra 3-6 2-2 9, Sokk 1-1 0-0 3, Berezhnoi 2-6 3-4 7, Meleschenko 5-6 0-0 11, Lopatov 1-2 0-0 3, Bazerevich 2-5 2-2 7, Sukharev 1-1 0-0 2.Totals 26-54 14-16 75.
Kukoc 5-10 2-2 14, Paspalj 7-13 2-2 16, Divac 3-6 0-3 6, Petrovic 7-16 5-8 20, Zdovc 6-13 0-0 13, Perasovic 0-0 0-0 0, Cutura 2-2 3-4 7, Obradovic 1-1 2-2 5, Komasec 0-0 0-0 0, Savic 5-6 1-1 11.Totals 36-67 15-22 92.
Halftime: Yugoslavia 52-34.
Three-point goals: Soviet Union 9-21 (Volkov 2-3, Tikhonenko 2-8, Sokk 1-1, Meleshenko 1-2, Lopatov 1-2, Bazerevich 1-2, Vetra 1-3), Yugoslavia 5-10 (Kukoc 2-4, Zdovc 1-1, Obradovic 1-1, Petrovic 1-3, Paspalj 0-1). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: Soviet Union 26 (Belostenni 7), Yugoslavia 36 (Kukoc 7). Assists: Soviet Union 10 (Volkov 4), Yugoslavia 17 (Zdovc 5). Total fouls: Soviet Union 20, Yugoslavia 16.