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FIBA Americas Women - Cuba and Canada claim coveted seats at 2014 Worlds in Turkey
The first two of three available tickets in Xalapa, Mexico for the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women were gleefully punched by Cuba and Canada as both teams advanced to the Final of the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women.
The triumphant Cubans stunned tournament co-favourites Brazil by pulling off a 72-68 upset in a truly gripping Semi-Final showdown - an achievement made even more impressive and magnified in shock value since it was achieved without the services of the influential Yamara Amargo.
But, with both Clenia Noblet and Marlen Cepeda catching fire and offering 80% shooting performances, Cuba were able to squeeze out a famous win and return to the Worlds once more, having missed out in 2010 in the Czech Republic.
Jumping into a 22-15 lead after the first quarter, Cuba continued their fine work and left Brazil staring down the barrel at a 40-21 deficit heading to the locker rooms at half-time.
Cuba will no doubt have been bracing themselves for a Brazilian backlash and it duly arrived in the form of a significant salvage mission.
Having cut the gap to 55-49 to end the third quarter, it looked like Brazil might just dodge a major bullet when Adriana Pinto levelled matters with just 90 seconds left on the game clock.
But the pendulum swung back in the favour of a tiring Cuba who found the mental strength to make the defensive plays and free-throws needed down the stretch to make the game safe.
Cepeda finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds, while Noblet was arguably the standout player with a stellar 18 points and 11 boards.
Oyanaisy Gelis and Leidys Oquendo also chipped in with a valuable 30 points between them, as Pinto claimed 15 points and seven assists for Brazil.
It was a lot more comfortable for Canada, who waltzed past Puerto Rico 73-48 to qualify for their third successive FIBA World Championship for Women and reach a FIBA Americas Championship for Women Final for the first time in 18 years.
Establishing their dominance early in the game, the intense trademark defense of the North American side limited Puerto Rico to a paltry eight points in the first quarter and that set the tone for the remainder of the contest.
Their blistering 26-8 opening immediately took the wind out of the Puerto Rican sails and Omar Gonzalez and his players couldn't recover, as Canada kept their foot on the throat of their opponents throughout the game with a phenomenal rebounding and defensive effort.
Veteran Kim Gaucher and forward Natalie Achonwa both corralled double-doubles with the former harvesting 14 points and 11 rebounds and the latter landing 11 points and 10 boards.
Carla Cortijo was outstanding in defeat with a vibrant 22 points, but she seriously lacked support with none of her team-mates able to manage more than a meagre five points.
Puerto Rico and Brazil will have one last opportunity to make amends in Saturday night's Third-Place Game, a match-up which will also decide the FIBA Americas team that claims the third and final remaining slot on offer in Xalapa for Turkey 2014.
For full and in-depth coverage of the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, go to the official website http://www.xalapa2013.com.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS
21. August 71
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS