XI'AN (China) – It took some tense moments, but Puerto Rico prevailed as they dusted off their 2024 FIBA Women's Olympic qualifier against New Zealand 69-67.
In a match that saw fewer than 15 lead changes, coach Gerardo Bautista's side showed nerves of steel in the crucial final minutes. Mya Hollingshed and Arella Guirantes led the way as Puerto Rico successfully qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games for the second time in their program's history. Hollingshead scored 20 points, while Guirantes added 13. Isalys Quiñones had a solid performance with 10 points and 6 rebounds. Team captain Stella Beck continued her effort with 21 points for New Zealand.
Infection Point: Beck was outstanding throughout the game, with Beck coming up with his best moment with a great assist to Lauryn Hippolyte and the Tall Ferns' final layup at 65-64 with 48 seconds left. Puerto Ricans, however, would not deny their place in Paris. At 66-65, Giarantes hit a hard-contested jumper over the outstretched arm of Ritoria Tamizov. After an empty New Zealand possession, Taira Melendez's heroics were the order of the day. He hit a midrange layup to consolidate Puerto Rico's lead at 68-65. Giarantes split his final drive to the free throw line before Beck's fastbreak basket set up the final score.
TCL Man of the Match: Mia Hollingshead was Puerto Rico's tower of power throughout the game. He played almost without relief and finished with a monstrous double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds. He did most of his damage in the second quarter, when Puerto Rico turned a 9-point deficit into a 3-point halftime lead. He added 4 blocks, 4 triples and 1 steal to his incredible performance.
The statistics don't lie: New Zealand had an advantage around the basket (+14 points in the paint), but Puerto Rico made up for it by shooting well from the perimeter (11 three-pointers). However, 15 lead changes practically underscores how competitive this game is. Neither team wanted to give up until the end, and that helped make this exciting match even more thrilling in Xi'an.
Conclusion: Puerto Rico played in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where they finished 12th, and will return to the Olympic arena this year in Paris. It was a huge win for coach Bautista and his charges, who lost to France on the opening day in China.
Now that they have the proverbial monkey on their back, the Puerto Ricans can focus on defeating hosts China on Day 3 to end their WOQT on a strong note.
They said: “We're very disappointed to lose, but congratulations to Puerto Rico. It's a very competitive tournament. We wish them the best in their next match. Tomorrow is against France, so we need to recover physically and mentally. Play against a great team”. – Guy Molloy, New Zealand head coach
“Congratulations to Puerto Rico. I'm brave for us and the girls, but it was a very close game. They deserved it.” – Stella Beck, New Zealand point guard
“It was a great game. I want to congratulate New Zealand because they did a great job. But our team kept fighting. The first quarter was not a good defensive leg for us, but the second leg. That changed the game a little bit. Our “forwards did a great job and it's world class. A great game for basketball.” – Gerardo Bautista, head coach of Puerto Rico
“New Zealand played hard all night. They came together, but we played Puerto Rican basketball. We always fought and never gave up. They coached us well and the team came together. We fought and executed when we needed to.” – Ali Gibson, Puerto Rico point guard
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