Thursday, 30 August 2007

Puerto Rico ends Canada's hope of a semi-final berth

A game-deciding 23-7 run to end the third quarter was enough to allow a three-point happy Puerto Rican squad to eliminate Canada from further FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament action with a 72-66 victory tonight in Las Vegas. With the victory, Puerto Rico will face the USA in one of two semi-final games with the winner getting an automatic bid to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Some familiar nemeses came back to get Canada as poor shot selection and an inability to account for 3 point shooters in transition buried Canada in a 19 point hole early in the fourth quarter and then abysmal free throw shooting down the stretch when Canada brought the game back negated any chance of victory. 6'5" Dave Thomas, who was Canada's best overall player on this night and arguably one of their most important players throughout the tournament, had 18 points including 7 down the stretch while 6'10" Samuel Dalembert had 13 points, including a put-back dunk with 4 minutes left to get Canada back to within 6 at 64-58 and added 18 rebounds but epitomized Canada's woes from the free throw line, going 1 for 4, part of a 12-24 effort collectively from the line by Canada. 6'5" Carl English again struggled with his shot selection and decision making trying to get to the rim, going 2 for 12 from the field and then with Canada trying to climb back into the game late, English had an opportunity to make big free throws but went only 2 for 4 from the line when it mattered, including an opportunity to bring it to 4 with 1:10 to play. NBAer Carlos Arroyo led all scorers with 22 points on 4-7 from three point land and keyed the third quarter run with several scintilating moves including a vicious cross-over that ended up as a three. In all, Puerto Rico made five of their 12 3's in the third quarter, going 12 for 30 from beyond the arc for the game. 7'3" Peter John Ramos had a solid 10 point, 9 rebound effort for Puerto Rico including a jump hook in the lane that gave Puerto Rico a 62-43 lead, starting what turned out to be a premature celebration on the Puerto Rican bench. But Canada quickly scored the next 11 points in only a minute and a half and clamped down defensively, drawing to within 5 at 66-61 after Thomas had a sweet "and 1" off a slick feed from the soft corner by Dalembert. But then Canada's free throw shooting woes took over and Puerto Rico finally clinched the game when 5'11" J.J. Berea (Dallas Mavericks/Boston University) sank a pair of free throws, interestingly enough the first free throws of the game for Puerto Rico, to restore a 4 point lead with 16 seconds remaining.

Canada started reasonably strong in the first quarter as 6'9" Jesse Young had 3 early buckets and Canada led 8-7 but Arroyo got cooking early for Puerto Rico scoring 10 first-quarter points as PR took a 19-15 lead. But as he has done throughout the tournament 6'2" Jermaine Anderson knocked in a straight on 3 off a ball screen to keep Canada within 3 at 21-18 after one. PR continued to push the tempo and when Arroyo knocked in a transition 3 after a Denham Brown turnover, Puerto Rico had their largest lead at 27-20 after which both teams struggled with their shot selection and finishing. Later, after Berea stroked a long 3, the Puerto Ricans had their largest lead at 35-26. But Canada's most consistent player on the night, Thomas, ensured that Canada would go into halftime with the momentum, hitting a pair of threes, his second at the halftime buzzer to cap an 8-0 run and Canada was back in the game at 35-34 after two quarters. But that momentum did not carry over into the third quarter as a very poor stretch for the majority of that frame was Canada's undoing.

With their fifth place finish Canada has been eliminated from further action at the Las Vegas qualifier. Still, according to FIBA's web site, fifth-place Canada is scheduled to participate in a play-in tournament next summer at a site to be determined with opponents to be determined. The team will go their seperate ways for now with the majority of players destined for their respective teams in Europe pondering what could have been a re-match with the USA on Saturday. In all, this particular group went 6-5 as a team this summer including 4-4 at the qualification tournament with victories against Venezuela, U.S. Virgin Islands, Uruguay and Mexico plus losses to the USA, Brazil, Argentina and Puerto Rico. Earlier, Canada had defeated Puerto Rico and Argentina in a pre-tournament warm-up however both sides avenged their losses to Canada when it really counted. The goal of this program should always be qualifying for the Olympics and this goal has not yet been reached - we will find out early next summer if it will or not.

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