Guaros and Capitanes complete the Semi-Finals bracket
PONCE (DIRECTV Liga de las Américas) – Guaros de Lara (Venezuela) and Capitanes de Arecibo (Puerto Rico) took the two final spots for the Semi-Finals phase at the DIRECTV Liga de las Américas 2019, achieving the two first places of Group D in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
An undefeated Guaros (3-0) guaranteed their ticket to the next round and the first place in the group, after overcoming Libertadores de Querétaro, 92-85, who exited with a 1-2 record.
The Venezuelan champions moved the ball effectively (achieving 26 assists with only five turnovers), controlled the rebounds (56 against their rivals’ 36) and stayed at the top during the 40 minutes in this way.
Small Forward Aaron Harmer was the greatest scorer, with 23 points and nine rebounds; while Center Justin Williams was determining in both ends of the court, with 21 points, 23 rebounds (10 offensive) and four blocks. Point Guard Heissler Guillent also shone with 16 points, seven assists and 6 rebounds.
The Lara side dominated the first three quarters (20-14, 49-39 and 68-61), but in the last act, the Mexicans, who throughout the group displayed a good level, pressured and placed themselves only a point away (74-73) with a three-pointer by Jesús González when there were 5:40 minutes left on the clock.
The reaction was quite brief; immediately Guaros answered with a two-pointer by Williams and a three-pointer by Harper, marking a wider difference, 79-73. The game was sentenced once Guillent scored a mid-distance two-pointer with a minute left, placing his side 87-78. Then, Harper added another three-pointer with 22 seconds left, leaving a broad difference, 90-80.
“The most important thing was that we achieved the qualification. We made some mistakes in the defense but today (Sunday) the outside shots went in better (9/21 in three-pointers, for 43%). They're a good squad, but we knew how to react when they came closer. This team has a characteristic and that is that there are no ego trips, everyone the ball. The 25 assists with only five turnovers talk about our team,” stated Gregory Vargas, who returned to the court after injuring a calf in the first game.
The point guard played for 27 minutes, where he contributed three points and seven assists, aside from his usual defensive effort.
As for Libertadores, Anthony Young added 26, while both Andrew Feeley and Brandon Davis did 18.
“The result is good for us. We played as equals, we built a good team. We showed that we can play against the great teams, even if some of us are playing for the first time at this level,” said Point Guard César Vásquez Guerrero, who closed with eight points.
For their part, after Capitanes (2-1) losing their first quarter 26-14, they kept at it and finally imposed their game, 94-93, against locals Leones de Ponce (0-3), featuring two free throws by Small Forward Victor Rudd when 12 seconds were left to conclude.
The current Puerto Rican champions managed the game's end with less pressure than their rivals, since according to the tournament's tie-breaking criteria, they could lose by up to six points and still qualify to the next round.
A three-pointer by Point Guard Raymond Cintrón in the middle of the fourth quarter gave Arecibo the advantage, 81-74, which allowed them to control the rhythm in the final moments. Ponce tried by all means to get the advantage they needed and even force an overtime, but they couldn't manage to do so.
Andre Emmett and Elijah Holman, with 25 and 24 points, respectively, led the winning side's offense. As for Leones, Nicolás Minnerath achieved 29 points, and Carlos Arroyo 17.
“It was a great game. It's always like that when we play against Ponce. We're happy to have achieved this goal. Now we’ll have more time to keep integrating,” stated Johwen Villegas, who contributed 10 points for Arecibo.
“The adjustment we did was in the defense. They marked their distance between the first and second quarters, but we kept our mids set, we went from less to more and we compensated for the losses,” sentenced the small forward.
Regarding what lies ahead in the Semi-Finals, the player shared: “The key will be working as a team. We’ll see even stronger rivals and we must improve our concentration during the first quarters.”
After Sunday's defeat, Ángel Vasallo couldn't conceal his dismay after Ponce weren't able to achieve any victories in this leg.
“It was a great disappointment. The team was doing well. We worked hard for a month. It's painful to leave like this. The truth is that I'm not sure about what happened. I think that we didn't flow, we got exasperated when we saw that we were down on the scoreboard. This is also something to acknowledge about the other teams,” ended the small forward, who contributed eight points to his cause.
With the qualification of Guaros and Capitanes, the Semi-Finals phase that will be disputed in the middle of March will now take place as follows:
San Lorenzo (Argentina)
Las Ánimas (Chile)
Capitanes (Puerto Rico)