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Manila, Philippines – Puerto Rico He raised his level of play at the right moment in the game. FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 and now he dreams of reaching the quarterfinals.
The Puerto Ricans earned today, Friday, an opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time since Indianapolis 2002 with a 102-97 victory against the Dominican Republic at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in the Philippine capital.
The Puerto Rican victory, along with Italy’s victory over Serbia, left all the teams tied in Group I at 3-1.
This leaves the table set for a spectacular day on Sunday, when the winners will advance to the round of the best eight teams in the tournament.
On Sunday, Puerto Rico will face Italy at 4:00 am island time, and the Dominican Republic will face Serbia at 8:00 am
And the Puerto Ricans are confident of punching their ticket to the next phase of the tournament, after showing better basketball since the second half in the setback against Serbia.
Puerto Rico has two consecutive victories after beating China on Wednesday to ensure its presence in the best 16 and beat Quisqueya, which had just won its first phase group undefeated.
“The path that brought us here prepared us. The exhibition games we had were a chance to play against top teams. We learned a lot of things on that tour. We do not achieve victories, but we do achieve experience. Something that I knew and had said on other occasions that was going to help us grow as a group and family, and understand the FIBA game at this level,” coach Nelson Colon reacted after calming his emotions after the hard-fought victory.
“We have understood and accepted it, both defensively and offensively. We are another team since the tournament began until today. I think we are in the best moment of our game. We have clicked. We have found a way to make things happen positively at the best possible time. We are one game away from putting ourselves in a great position in basketball in Puerto Rico and in the history that this group can achieve. It is a great motivation that pushes us to try to do well on Sunday against Italy”, added Colon.
Puerto Rico began its preparation, precisely, against the Dominican Republic on August 4 at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum, leaving through the wide door.
At that time the NBA center with the Minnesota Timberwolves was not on the court, Karl-Anthony Towns, who was a nightmare on Friday for the Puerto Rican quintet with 39 points, 19 in the third quarter, and 10 rebounds.
The Puerto Ricans were able to survive the fury of the Quisqueyan center, after losing a 16-point lead in the first half and being down by seven points in the last quarter to complete the comeback in the final minutes.
“The last two minutes were stressful,” confessed the center George Conditt IV, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and gave a block to Victor Liz, which culminated in a three-pointer by John Holland that broke the 95-95 tie with 31.1 seconds left. That basket gave the Puerto Ricans the definitive advantage.
“It was nail-biting, surely, for our people watching (the game) from their homes. But, I’m happy because we stayed together as a team and completed the job. It is a step towards the final goal: compete and improve. The work is not finished. I’m happy that we won and we tested ourselves. We still have a tough Italy team to play,” Conditt added.
The base Tremont Waters earned his third FIBA Player of the Game trophy by finishing with 37 points, including seven triples, 11 assists and seven rebounds.. He tied Larry Ayuso’s record for the most points scored in a game by a Puerto Rican in a World Cup.
“We stuck together. Obviously, KAT (Towns) was big for them. We had to work on it and get shots. It was the result of having trust in each other. If we play like that all the time, we’re hard to beat,” Waters said.
“(This victory) It means a lot. We know the rivalry, but we knew that we had to win for other reasons, for the pride of representing the island and the support we have received. We cannot be comfortable with the match we have on Sunday,” Waters commented.
Puerto Rico played Italy on August 13 in Veronna, falling by double digits 98-65. Previously, Italy also defeated Puerto Rico in the 2021 Olympic Repechage and in the second round of the last World Cup in China 2019.
Puerto Ricans hope that this commitment will have a different result.
“Italy is an incredible and well-coached team. Very good. We have to continue playing like we have done. Since that second half against Serbia, we have been a different team. We have to make sure we play that way against them, together to get the win.”said point guard Jordan Howard, who finished with 11 points and five assists.
Puerto Rico, which has already secured its place in the 2024 Olympic Repechage, would have an opportunity to qualify directly for the Paris Games if the Dominican Republic, Canada and Brazil lose this Sunday.
Canada will play against Spain and Brazil against Latvia. The World Cup grants tickets to Paris to the best two teams in America. The United States already qualified for the quarterfinals with 4-0.