MAR DEL PLATA (FIBA Americas) – Argentina clinched an Olympic spot after beating Puerto Rico in a breathtaking 81-79 finale playing at home.
Luis Scola and Emanuel Ginóbili combined for 50 points to lead the 2004 Olympic Champion for another shot at the London Games.
Argentina played in great form during the first and third quarters but lost tempo in the other two to make it a 79-79 tie with 1:52 to play. Ginóbili poured in one of two free throws and Pablo Prigioni also added one of two to finally defeat Puerto Rico.
The team will play a new Olympic Game after two consecutive medals, Gold in 2004 and Bronze in 2008.
Scola played all of them.
“This is something great because it will be my third Olympic Game. When I was a young kid and I was growing, I had a dream that was playing at least one but I thought it was impossible. It was crazy because we had never qualified. Now, I’m about to play my third Game, which is something great,” said Scola, who scored all of his first nine shots of the game en route to a game-high 27 points.
In the fourth quarter, Argentina missed five consecutive shots and suffered a turnover in three minutes before Ginóbili’s free throw.
“We’ve accomplished our goal, but, God, we suffered too much to achieve it,” said Manu.
“It was one of the games in which I suffered the biggest pressure of all my career, only compared with Game 7 of the 2005 NBA finals. I couldn’t miss because we were playing for that Olympic spot at home, with 9,000 people cheering for us, including my family and friends.”
Manu Ginóbili also expressed his feelings when he saw José Barea shooting to win the game in the last second.
“When the ball was in the air, my heart stopped, I almost die. When I saw the ball bouncing on the basket, I thrilled, I felt a huge backpack falling off my back and I needed to hug my teammates and all the 9,000 fans.”
After the game ended, the Argentine players stayed for almost five minutes celebrating the Olympic spot with the crowd.
However, Scola and Carlos Delfino were already thinking on Sunday’s game.
“We had two goals. We’ve accomplished the first one that was making it to the Olympics, but we have another that is winning the tournament,” said the two players in different moments to FIBA.
The 2002 World runners-up won FIBA Americas in 2001, when the tournament was played in Chile.
José Juan Barea had a team-high 20 points and carried the team against their opponents and the crowd. Daniel Santiago added 16 points while Carlos Arroyo scored 15.
Argentina will play the 2012 London Olympic Games, while Puerto Rico will have a second chance on the Olympic Qualifying Tournament next year.