MADRID (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) – Cuba led by 18 points near the end of the third quarter but had to hold on for dear life before beating Japan to reach the last game of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
Yayma Boulet had 24 points to lead the Cubans in a 66-58 victory.
On Sunday, they will take on the winner of the other semi-final between Angola and Brazil and the side that triumphs in that encounter will advance to Beijing Games.
Spain, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Belarus all won their quarter-finals to earn tickets to China.
Cuba coach Alberto Zabala blamed a loss of concentration from his team for allowing the Japanese to claw their way back and trail by just one at 59-58 with 3:01 remaining.
"We relaxed a little bit and they came back,” Zabala said, “but fortunately, the girls reacted and we took the advantage we needed.”
Yulizeny Soria replied with a jump shot to settle the Cuban nerves and Japan failed to score the rest of the way.
Japan are a very dangerous team when they get hot from three-point range but that didn’t happen against Cuba. They finished five of 25 from long range.
Cuba’s defense also forced them into committing 20 turnovers.
Yakelyn Plutin also had 12 points for Cuba.
"This victory is important for us,” Zabala said.
“We knew when we came to Madrid that we had two roads to reach the Olympics. We have followed the most difficult road, but the crucial thing is that we have made it to the final game.
"I hope Brazil win because it's a team that we know very well.
“We have heard from the media the situation with Iziane but Brazil have traditionally a quality side and with our without Iziane, it will be a difficult game but we are ready."
Iziane, the captain of Brazil, is being sent home from Madrid and is out of the national team after having a disagreement with her coach Paul Bassul and refusing to enter the game in the second half of the team’s overtime loss to Belarus on Friday night.
Boulet believes the team has shown their grit by bouncing back from a difficult defeat to Spain in their quarter-final.
"I think we lost a bit of focus in the final quarter but we managed to react when it mattered,” she said.
"The defeat against Spain has not hindered us. Japan is a good team but we played better.
“Now we are ready for the final game and we are really optimistic about our chances."