Saturday, 29 August 2009

Uruguay 71, Canada 69

6'2" Martin Osimani's long 3 with 21 seconds remaining from the top of the bowl gave his team the lead for good, capping a furious three-point-shooting-driven comeback as Canada (2-1 in Group A) suffered a significant blow to their hopes of qualifying for next year's 2010 FIBA World championships in Turkey with a 71-69 loss to Uruguay (also 2-1 in Group A). After 6'9 Jesse Young (18 points), who had his best overall game of the tournament, gave Canada a five point lead with about 4 minutes remaining at 63-58 on a 15 footer, back-to-back threes by Uruguay's Leandro Garcia Morales and Mauricio Aguiar suddenly gave Uruguay the lead back at 64-63. Later Garcia Morales added 3 free throws when fouled beyond the arc and the teams exchanged baskets until Osimani's dramatic shot, right in the eye of Canada's 6'5" Andy Rautins, who earlier had turned the ball over with the score tied and then took an ill-advised three.

In maybe the most exciting game of the tournament thus far, the game produced 12 lead changes and Canada appeared to have taken over midway through the fourth quarter, fashioning 14-2 run to lead by 5 against a Uruguaian group that appeared to be running out of steam with no offensive flow and several short-armed shots. But Garcia Morales, Aguiar and then Osimani became heroes with their dramatic makes.

The deeper Canadian team had a couple of chances to put the game away in the second half, initially when they took their first lead since early in the first quarter on a three pointer by 6'8" Levon Kendall off a nice draw-and-kick feed from 6'1" Jermaine Anderson. At that point, Uruguay looked gassed but up two with the ball in transition, Canada turned it over and the resulting three point play by Uruguay's top post player 6'10" Esteban Batista gave the South Americans life and the momentum helped them take a 51-47 lead after three quarters. Uruguay extended the lead to 7 on another put-back "and 1" by Bautista, highlighting again how Canada gave up way too many second chances across the entire afternoon.

But Canada again ratcheted up the "d" and, with the help of a three by 6'5" Carl English, a Young 15 footer and a driving runner by 6'6" Olu Famutimi, Canada took the lead with 6 minutes left and later Anderson hit an "and 1" and Canada led by 5 with 4:06 remaining. But the Uruguaians dug deep and made big shots when it mattered to keep their qualifying hopes alive.

The loss puts a severe crimp in Canada's plans to advance to Turkey with tomorrow night's Group A finale against host Puerto Rico in sight. A victory would likely have given Canada at least two victories going into the next round. And with 4 wins likely the requirement for finishing in the Top 4, Canada would only have had to go 2-2 in the next round to likely qualify. The road will be much more difficult - but not insurmountable - now, starting tomorrow night.

After an 8-2 Canada run to start the game, Batista (inside) and Osimani (off the dribble) took over the rest of the quarter as Batista (first 8 points for Uruguay) had his way inside while Osimani continually beat Canadian guards and got himself in the paint, allowing Uruguay to finish the quarter on a 23-8 run to lead by 9. Osimani was the first guard in the tournament to test Canada's ability to guard the basketball and exposed a chink in Canada's armour. Later, coach Leo Rautins decided to try some zone to varying success and indeed Canada played much of the fourth quarter in a 2/3 zone, a reasonable ploy given the alleged weariness that Uruguay was displaying toward the end of the game and the difficulties Canada had keeping Osimani in front of them for long stretches in the game.

Uruguay comfortably led throughout most of the second quarter and it could have been worse except the Uruguains missed at least 5 free throws. Still, after 4 minutes of the second, Uruguay led 28-20 and appeared to be in control. Insert Canadian captain Young, who scored 8 consecutive points for Canada in the quarter and played a big role in a 10-2 run that got Canada back to within two at 32-30 with 1:45 remaining. However, a couple of poor shots by English and Famutimi and repeated second chance opportunites helped Uruguay finish strong and enter halftime with a five point lead at 36-31. The first half had good flow despite repeated referee whistles, specifically for at least 7 moving screen calls on both ends.

Canada needs a big effort against the host Puerto Ricans who have the luxury of an off day today and plenty of time to prepare for Canada's sets and defensive rotations. Canada must improve their ability to guard the ball, especially with 6'2" Carlos Arroyo playing main creator and decision-maker for the hosts. As well, today's tendancy to give up second chances and take questionable shots at key points in games must improve. Game time Sunday night is 9 PM ET.

NOTE: Canada is limited to an 11 man roster as 6'4" Ryan Bell , in street clothes again today, has missed the first three games with a quad injury. Still, Rautins shortened his bench today, going with mainly a eight man rotation after using at least 10 men extensively with eleventh man 6'9" Kyle Landry getting significant minutes against U.S. Virgin Islands but Landry saw no action and 6'1" guard Tyler Kepkey and 6'7" forward Jermaine Bucknor only limited action.

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