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MADRID (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) – It wasn’t easy, but Brazil finally booked a return trip to the Olympics with a thrilling 72-67 win against Cuba on Sunday.
Paulo Bassul’s young team, which lost an overtime heartbreaker to Belarus in their quarter-final, clinched the final spot up for grabs for Beijing at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament by beating Angola on Saturday and then Cuba in the last game.
“It’s a great moment, and the girls deserve this,” said Bassul. “I think it’s a wonderful group and basketball for me is a group.”
Bassul, in his second full season as the national team coach, steered his side through incredible adversity in Madrid to reach the Olympics.
He kicked the most famous player in the Brazilian game, Iziane, off the team after the defeat to Belarus because she had refused to go into the game in overtime.
She had not played in the third and fourth quarters and complained in a press conference the following day that she was too cold to go back into the game.
Moving forward without their star, Brazil thrashed the Angolans on Saturday in their penultimate game and then edged an excellent Cuba.
Their FIBA Americas rivals, coached by Alberto Zabala, led by as many as six and were on top 61-56 four minutes from the end after two free throws by Oyanaisy Gelis.
They weren’t able to put the Brazilians away, though, who stormed back.
Karla buried two free throws with 32 seconds remaining to put Bassul’s side in front at 67-65.
Following a Cuba timeout, Ineidis Casanova penetrated into the lane but instead of feeding one of her teammates, elected to shoot a running jumper and missed.
Kelly rebounded and passed to Micaela who was fouled and she made two free throws to open up a 69-65 advantage.
Yakelyn Plutin drew a foul with 14 seconds to go and sank two from the stripe to keep Cuba’s faint hopes alive, but Micaela made two more free throws and Gelis was off target with a long three-pointer.
Micaela led all scorers with 22 points and the young center Franciele was outstanding off the bench with four blocked shots.
Yamara Amargo made three of six three-pointers and led Cuba with 17 points.
Cuba shot 13 of 19 (68%) at the free throw line. Brazil were even worse at 57% (12 of 21) but they made them when they really needed to at the end.
Brazil out-rebounded Cuba 46-44.