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MADRID (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) – Brazil held off hosts Spain at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 71-68 to clinch first place in Group C and set up a quarter-final clash with Belarus.
Paulo Bassul’s youngsters, fresh off their South American Championship win over Argentina, made a loud statement in the Telefonica Arena that this national team is on the rise with a stunning defensive performance against one of the best teams in the world.
“It's two great groups, and strong defense from both,” said Brazil coach Paulo Bassul.
“Usually Brazil does not defend strong like today. We are learning. We must do that. We have a new generation and if you don’t have strong defense, you won’t have a chance at this level.”
It is little wonder that numerous media outlets have travelled from Brazil to watch the national team.
Bassul’s team is flashy, yet controlled.
It excelled in transition but also showed an ability to play a half-court game and pound the ball inside to Graziane, Kelly, Mama and Ega.
Iziane led the team with 18 points but the attack had great balance.
Bassul, in his second full season as coach of the national team as the successor to long-time boss Antonio Barbosa, had a master-class performance as well with his substitutions.
He also tactically got it right in the crucial final 30 seconds when he had his team use up fouls so Spain could not attempt a potential game-tying three-pointer.
Brazil, who led by as many as 11 in the third quarter, did nearly everything well, including in the vital department of free throw shooting by making a scintillating 24 of 26 (92%) for the game.
After an Anna Montanana three-ball cut the deficit to 67-66 with 16 seconds remaining, Amaya Valdemoro fouled Iziane and the Brazil captain made both shots from the charity stripe for a 69-66 advantage.
Brazil then made Spain waste time, committing three fouls before putting Valdemoro on the line with less than four seconds left.
Valdemoro made the first free throw to cut the deficit to two, and attempted to miss the second but her shot hit the backboard and went in.
Instead, Spain fouled Claudinha and she made both shots from the charity stripe.
Spain inbounded the ball to Montanana, who had a game-high 20 points, and she rushed her shot from beyond half-court and missed.
The Spanish were just four of 23 from three-point range while inside the arc, they got points on fast breaks but still finished a disappointing 47% (23 of 49).
Their punishment is a game against Cuba in the quarter-finals.
“Like I said before the game, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, the quarter-finals are still going to be the same difficulty,” said Spain point guard Elisa Aguilar.
“It’s going to be Cuba. Right now, we need to think about Friday because if we win, we are in the Olympics.”
Bassul said it was important not to overreact in what is easily his finest hour on the international stage.
“Spain and Brazil can play 10 teams, and each team can win five,” he said. “They are the same level. Today we were happier.”