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With a dramatic end, Puerto Rico grab their ticket to China 2019
SAN JUAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) — Puerto Rico suffered but, in the end, it was all worth it. The Puerto Rican national team are now in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in their own right, although they literally had to battle for it until the very last second.
In a dramatic game with an ending straight out of a movie, Puerto Rico took the last available ticket to the world stage in China 2019 after overcoming Uruguay on Monday, 65-61, in a Roberto Clemente Coliseum overflowing with fans from the Puerto Rican capital.
Like this, the Boricuas return to the greatest stage of international basketball, where they have marked a perfect attendance since Spain 1986 and are adding their fourteenth World Cup since 1959.
“The game was as expected —it was hard fought. There were a lot of emotions, a lot of intensity. We had a bit of bad luck in some throws. They did a very good job. We delayed in getting in rhythm. We knew that we would win in the end, but it wasn't easy,” pointed out Puerto Rico's coach, Eddie Casiano, in the press conference.
The Boricuas recovered from a slow start in the first quarter, where they fell, 19-9, against a courageous Uruguayan team. However, everything changed in the second quarter and the rest of the game became a give and take.
“I think that Uruguay made it hard for us to defeat them — they stepped up until the last second. We did a commendable job in the defense. Our percentage was very low for a game of this level. I'm thankful of the Uruguayan Federation ant the players,” stated Rubén Magnano, who commandeered the Celestes in the last two windows.
Gary Browne led Puerto Rico with 16 points, Gian Clavell contributed 13, and John Holland 11. Uruguay’s outstanding player was Esteban Batista (19 points and nine rebounds), while Gustavo Barrera added 14 more for the South Americans; but they fell short from returning to a World Cup for the first time since 1986.
After 30 minutes of pure intensity, Puerto Rico began the decisive segment on the upside, 48-41. By Clavell’s hand, the islanders began to widen the gap, 50-41, but a three-point shot by Bruno Fitipaldo brought Uruguay back to life, 50-44.
Puerto Rico's joyous game appeared again on the scene and, as had been usual in the past encounters in the Clemente Coliseum, Clavell was outstanding once again in the fourth quarter. With a three-pointer and three consecutive free throws, the shooting guard made the fans go wild, 58-45, with 3:28 left to play.
But Uruguay didn’t travel this far to go home early. Barrera carried his entire country over his shoulders and, with seven points by him, the Celestes came closer, 59-52, with 1:34 left on the clock.
Two free throws by Bruno Fitipaldo set the fans’ nerves on fire, 59-56. But Clavell wouldn't let anyone down in a stage that it seems he wants to mark with plays that will go down in the history books. In the one-on-one, Clavell scored a three-point shot that made the Coliseum explode, 62-56, with 54.1 seconds remaining.
The game was far from over.
Parodi managed a three-pointer to stay alive, 63-61, with 27.0 seconds to the full time. In the next possession, Huertas scored one of two free throws, giving the visiting side hopes, but Parodi couldn’t score this time against the Boricua defense and Holland sealed the deal with a free throw that initiated the locals’ celebrations.
In the beginning of the game, Uruguay didn’t allow intimidation to settle in a venue full of Puerto Rican followers. Parodi seemed confident in the court and with five consecutive points he put the Charrúas on the lead, 19-9, after the first 10 minutes.
Puerto Rico, who spent almost eight minutes with no field goals, controlled with the Browne and Holland duo. It was Holland himself who achieved a spectacular dunk that excited the stadium and left the scoreboard 32-26 in the rest. Puerto Rico took the second quarter, 23-7, after having been gravely defeated in the first.
After two completely opposite quarters, Puerto Rico and Uruguay sustained a pitched battle during the next 10 minutes, although 30 minutes later the locals still were in the lead, 46-41.