HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) – With the United States already holding a ticket to London next year and happy to sit out the event for the second straight time, the FIBA Americas Championship 2011 got underway in Mar del Plata, Argentina on Tuesday.
The top two finishers in the tournament will qualify for next year’s Olympics in London. The third, fourth and fifth-place finishers will qualify for the 12-team qualifying tournament next July. The top three finishers in that tournament will qualify for the Olympics.
Eight of the FIBA Americas’ 10 teams were in action on the first of five days of preliminary-round action. Here’s a rundown…
Dominican Republic 90, Cuba 60 (Box Score)
Of the three NBA players on the D.R. roster, Al Horford clearly stood out. After a slow start (two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first 8:58), he dominated the action in the Dominican’s easy win.
Horford’s 24 points came mostly in the post, where the Cuban big men were completely overmatched. But he did have a handful of buckets on the move and on the break. The highlight was a fast-break alley-oop throw down off a toss from Edgar Sosa midway through the second quarter.
After that 1-for-5 start, Horford connected on 11 of his final 13 shots. He added nine boards to his 24 points.
More notes from Dominican Republic vs. Cuba …
- Charlie Villanueva came off the bench for the Dominican and looked pretty rusty. Apparently, he was under the weather, but coach John Calipari left Villanueva on the floor for all of garbage time, maybe to help him get in game shape. Villanueva finished with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting and did have one highlight when he took a dribble handoff and drove through the paint for strong dunk.
- Sosa, Calipari’s starting point guard, will be the Dominican’s X-factor for most of this tournament. He’s got talent, but his decision-making is always a question. On Tuesday, Cuba allowed him to get to the basket with ease. He finished with 14 points, two assists and just one turnover.
- Francisco Garcia had a pretty quiet afternoon, scoring just seven points on 3-for-9 from the field.
- The Dominican Republic will need better contributions from Garcia and Villanueva as the tournament goes on, but at worst, they should finish in the top five. And it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine them in the final and qualifying for the Olympics.
Brazil 92, Venezuela 83 (Box Score)
This was the best game of the day, with the underdog Venezuela leading for all of the middle two quarters. They were up six with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter when Greivis Vasquez left the game. Then Brazil scored the next 11 points (Vasquez returned midway through the run) to take the lead for good.
Vasquez could have tied the game with a pair of free throws with 3:53 left, but he missed the second one. And after Jose Vargas missed a three to tie with 1:31 left, Brazil’s Marcelo Huertas and Tiago Splitter ran a beautiful pick-and-roll to put the game away.
More notes from Brazil vs. Venezuela …
- This was an offense-oriented game, with the two teams combining to shoot 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range.
- Splitter was about as efficient as you can get, scoring 17 points on 7-for-8 from the field, adding 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
- Brazil’s strength is its ball movement. They assisted on 22 of their 35 field goals, with Huertas leading the way with seven dimes.
- Vasquez made a couple of bad decisions down the stretch, but he generally carried the load for Venezuela, scoring 26 points and dishing out seven assists.
- Brazil is without Nene and Leandro Barbosa, but they’re still a contender for one of the top two spots.
Argentina 84, Paraguay 52 (Box Score)
This one was over early. Argentina is the host and the tournament favorite, with their veteran core looking to make one last trip to the Olympics, and they’re off to a strong start. They led 10-0, 21-6, and 29-8.
- Luis Scola picked up where he left off in last year’s World Championship, scoring 10 of his team’s first 12 points. He finished with just 14 points, but Argentina obviously didn’t need him much after that initial burst.
- Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni finished with 10 points each. Ginobili, Nocioni and Scola were all limited to no more than 22 minutes of action. Shooter Paolo Quinteros came off the bench to lead all scorers with 19 points in 29 minutes.
- Carlos Delfino sat out the opener with tendonitis in his right ankle.
Puerto Rico 96, Panama 66 (Box Score)
Puerto Rico — another favorite to reach the semis — shot a scorching 56 percent from the field, including 10-for-18 from 3-point range, to cruise to an easy victory. They even made all 15 of their attempts from the free throw line.
- J.J. Barea scored just eight points, but was able to rest the final 17 minutes of the game.
- Carlos Arroyo finished with 11 points and seven assists in just 25 minutes.
- Gary Forbes had 14 points for Panama, but struggled from the field, connecting on just four of his 13 shots.
- Panama recorded just six assists and turned the ball over 17 times.