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Barea leads wounded Puerto Rico to first win in Sevilla
SEVILLA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Puerto Rico came into the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup thinking they had good chances of reaching the knockout stage from Group B with a solid all-around team, including a great and experienced back court.
But after a series of injuries, JJ Barea was like a soldier carrying an entire battalion of wounded warriors on his back in leading Puerto Rico to their first victory of the tournament against Philippines.
Barea scored 30 points including 10 in the final four minutes of play in Puerto Rico's 77-73 victory over Philippines to improve to 1-3 in Group B and stay alive for a shot at the Round of 16.
"I was going to die out there before I would lose. I could see in my teammates' and coaches' eyes that they were fighting with me. Every followed me," he said.
He made three three-pointers and 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, including 5-of-6 in the final 52 seconds.
I'm just happy we never gave up. I'm happy we're still alive. - Barea
Barea shouldered a big load in the game as star Carlos Arroyo and fellow starter Angel Vassallo missed their second straight games with injuries. Arroyo went to local hospital during the first half of the game for an MRI on his right ankle. The team did not know the results of the examination after the game.
In addition, Renaldo Balkman was fighting a sore left Achilles tendon and sat much of the game until the final five minutes - to give Barea and the others who stepped up a bit more help.
"I don't usually single out my players but I want to mention Barea. He led us in scoring but also at the hotel as a leader," said Puerto Rico coach Paco Olmos.
He added that the team knew of the magnitude of the game.
"We were quite aware the purpose of the game was to stay alive. We were keenly aware that it was a knockout game. We had had problems staying focused in games but we did a better job of that tonight," said Olmos.
Puerto Rico will take on Croatia in their final Group B contest on Thursday and know they absolutely need a victory to have any chance of reaching the knockout stage.
But first, Olmos said his team needs to rest.
"This effort took a lot out of them. We hope we still have a chance (to advance) in the final game against Croatia," he said.