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Ayuso leads Puerto Rico to bronze medal

Sep 3, 2007 - 12:03 AM LAS VEGAS (Ticker) -- Elias Ayuso scored 28 of his tournament-high 39 points in the second half as Puerto Rico captured the bronze medal with a 111-107 victory over Brazil at the FIBA Americas Championship at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Carlos Arroyo had 30 points and 10 assists and Angelo Reyes collected 15 and 15 rebounds for Puerto Rico, which routed Brazil, 97-75, in a second-round game on Monday.

Brazil, which was considered the second-best squad entering the tournament, looked have tired legs throughout the contest until staging a frantic comeback in the final minutes.

Ayuso, Arroyo and Carmelo Lee each made two free throws after Brazil had made it a one-possession game three different times in the last 20 seconds.

The second of two consecutive 3-pointers by Alexandre Garcia cut Brazil's deficit to two points with seven seconds left. Ayuso then made two free throws with four seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game at 111-107.

"We never panicked at the end," Puerto Rico coach Manuel Cintron said. "They kept on making difficult baskets, but we made all of our free throws in pressure situations."

Ayuso, who made all seven of his free throws and had four steals, edged Leandro Barbosa for the tournament's single-game scoring mark. Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns scored 36 points earlier in the event.

"I was struggling at the beginning of this tournament," Ayuso said. "I am a shooter, so I kept shooting and they started to fall. I planned to be with Puerto Rico and qualify for the Olympics. When I represent these colors, I play with my heart."

Marcelo Machado scored 21 points and Tiago Splitter had 19 and 13 rebounds for Brazil.

"This was a very difficult competition," Brazil coach Aluisio Ferreira. "The play-in system is very tough. The team worked very hard, but at the end it came down to one game (a loss to Argentina on Saturday)."

Both teams already reserved spots for the 2008 Olympic qualifier in July at a site to be announced by finishing among the top five. Canada finished fifth and also will be at the qualifier.

The United States and Argentina, who played in Sunday's gold-medal game, earned automatic tickets to Beijing next summer.

"We dedicate this victory to the Puerto Rican people," Cintron said. "Ayuso joined us and had only one practice. The team came to this tournament with only three full practices. We had some players who came here physically punished because they played in a summer league in Puerto Rico.

"We were trying to find a rhythm, and we started the tournament cold. It was a short time to come together, but we finished strong."

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