Australia advances to men's basketball semifinals

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Australia was first through to the semifinals of the men's basketball tournament on Wednesday, pounding Lithuania 90-64 to close in on what has been an elusive Olympic medal.

A day after hot medal favorites Australia were surprised by Serbia in the women's basketball quarter-finals, the Boomers provided an upset of their own - knocking off third-ranked Lithuania to advance to the medal round.

By ranking, at number 11, Australia may have been the underdog on paper but they have been one of top teams at the Olympic tournament and showed their class against Lithuania as they rolled to a 48-30 halftime lead and cruised to an easy win.

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Patty Mills paced Australia with a game high of 24 points while Aron Baynes had 16 and Matthew Dellavedova chipped in with 15, all coming in the first half.

Australia will now take on the winner out of Croatia and Serbia in Friday's semi-finals.

"We came out and threw the first punch to see how they would react...and after that it was just a matter of staying consistent and keeping them down," said Mills, one of four players on the Australian squad with an NBA championship.

"For us it's onto the next one, we'll enjoy this one the rest of the day but it is long road for us to get to where we want to go and be the last one standing."

The close-knit Boomers have been a team on mission in Rio.

Australia's men have never won an Olympic medal although they have come agonizingly close.

The quarter-final win was a small measure of revenge for the Boomers who were twice beaten out of a bronze by Lithuania at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games but Australia has set a bigger target in Rio - the top of the podium.

"It's another step on our journey," said Dellavedova, fresh off an NBA championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "We've set the goal of winning a gold medal and today was just another step.

"We knew it was going to be hard and we are going to have to work hard for it but we're happy to move on.

"Playing for your country in the knockout stages is about as big as it gets."

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While some teams like the U.S. have struggled to live up to expectations the Boomers have generally exceeded them, posting a 4-1 record to finish second in their group behind the unbeaten United States.

"We have a group that is pretty confident," said Andrew Bogut, another Australian with an NBA championship ring. "We're excited, we know there is a lot more work to do.

"Australia has been in this position multiple times, been in the bronze medal games and lost that one so this is the third time.

"We know there is still a huge step to go with Serbia or Croatia coming up in the semis."

(Editing by Nina Chestney)

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