|Saturday, August 9
Updated: August 18, 3:55 PM ET
Americans still no match for physical Cubans
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The rematch was a bust, too.
The Cuban women's basketball team beat the United States for the fifth straight time Saturday, defeating the poor-shooting Americans 75-64 for the gold medal at the Pan American Games.
The Cubans erupted after their win, with reserve players draped in the country's flag leaping off the bench and onto the floor to celebrate.
"This is a very triumphant moment for Cuba,'' said Yamile Martinez, who led her team with 21 points and six rebounds.
In the fifth meeting of the teams in an 18-day span, Cuba used many of the same tactics it did in winning the first four matchups: pound the ball inside; push the tempo and make shots, including several uncontested layins; and play great defense.
The game was so physical that at times it bordered on dangerous.
"We fought hard to get where we were,'' U.S. coach Debbie Ryan of Virginia said. "We were ready to play today, but we were playing a little too fast. That's due to Cuba's speed and defensive pressure.''
Yuliseni Soria added 16 points and five rebounds for Cuba, which beat the U.S. team twice in this tournament. Cuba won 84-62 in the opener for both squads last Saturday after having swept three exhibition games July 22-24 in Havana.
Cuba's fans dominated the arena, pounding on the flip-down seats, cheering wildly and waving their country's flag.
Still, the U.S. women did something here the U.S. men couldn't: bring home a medal. The American men's team lost 76-70 to Brazil in the bronze-medal game Wednesday.
"We're both two great teams,'' American Jenni Benningfield said. "There's no doubt in our minds we can play with them and beat them. That's the most disappointing thing. But it is satisfying to have this medal around my neck.''
Earlier Saturday, the Pan American basketball confederation rejected a protest by Brazil of Friday's 75-69 overtime semifinal loss to the American women.
Anibal Garcia, technical director of COPABA, the regional governing body for the sport, told The Associated Press the protest had been denied.
"They submitted a protest that wasn't really a protest because they didn't submit it on time,'' Garcia said. "They should have made the protest before the game was over. There's no way we can go through a protest, whether there was a mistake or not.''
The Brazilian delegation filed the protest Saturday with the Dominican organizing committee, claiming the Americans were credited with one extra point at the end of the first period.
Rebekkah Brunson of Georgetown scored 16 points to lead the Americans against Cuba.
Brunson's basket in the paint with 5:16 left in the third quarter pulled the Americans to 45-41 before Cuba went on a 13-5 run over the next 3:12. The Cubans answered whenever the Americans made a threat, hitting big shots to keep the momentum. Brunson's three-point play with 5:21 left made it 66-60, but the United States couldn't get closer because it kept missing easy shots.
"Almost any time we'd have a run, we'd have a defensive lapse after that,'' Brunson said. "We were given all the chances in the world.''
Both teams said after the opener that they expected to see the other again before leaving this Caribbean island, and they were right.
Again, the Americans were inconsistent. They managed only 16 points in the second half in the first game. In the first half Saturday, the U.S. team shot 25 percent (8-for-31), including 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
Yaima Boulet's three-point play with 6:02 left in the second quarter started a 10-2 run as the Cubans built a 30-17 lead. Liset Castillo contributed a steal and a three-point play during the spurt.
Cuba led 36-26 at halftime.
U.S. captain Jamie Carey of Texas had been perfect from the free-throw line all tournament until missing the first of two she took with 1:49 left in the third period. She finished 14-for-15 from the line.
A day after the controversy about whether the Americans received an extra point against Brazil, the official scorers almost robbed them of two points. The scorers briefly failed to give Brunson two points she scored with 23 seconds left in the third quarter. Ryan approached the scorer's table to argue, and Brunson got her points a few minutes later.
"It's a great feeling winning an NCAA title, but there's no feeling like competing for a gold medal for your country,'' Barbara Turner of reigning champion Connecticut said.