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Italy Knocks Puerto Rico Out Of Olympic Basketball Medal Round

By Gabrielle Paese

August 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Feeling sorry for yourself is a bummer. Because no matter how much you are wallowing in self-pity, there’s always some other poor bastard who has got it worse than you.

Take Spain, for example.

The Spanish basketball team was an unprecedented 5-0 after the first round of Olympic basketball play in Athens this week. And then, poof, it all magically disappeared after a quarterfinal loss Thursday to the United States (102-94). Look where Spain is now. Playing China for seventh place.

In that light, Puerto Rico’s performance at the 2004 Olympics looks incredible. Puerto Rico had two first-round losses (Lithuania and Greece) and lost by 13 in the quarterfinal to Italy, 83-70. Yet even though the Puerto Rican team’s record overall was worse than Spain’s, at least Puerto Rico has a shot at fifth place Saturday against Greece. As former Puerto Rico basketball team coach and player Raymond Dalmau said Thursday, fifth place in the Olympics is really not all that bad.

Not bad for a Monday morning quarterback. But hard to reconcile for Carlos Arroyo, Rolando Hourruitiner, Larry Ayuso, Jose "Piculin" Ortiz and the rest of the team, who tried unsuccessfully to keep a bronze medal from slipping through the screens.

Italian coach Carlo Recalcati did his homework. He knew Puerto Rico relied on perimeter shooting. He knew the Puerto Ricans were having trouble scoring down low. Italy pressured the Puerto Ricans outside and while Arroyo and Ayuso still broke free for 23 and 24 points, respectively, Eddie Casiano fell victim to Italy’s defense, making forced shots (he was 0 for 8 and made all three of his points from the free throw line).

Puerto Rico shot a miserable 38 percent (23-61) from the field. Italian point guard Massimo Bulleri led his team’s offense, scoring 20 points, aided by his teammate Gianluco Basile, who scored 18 and nailed a key three pointer in the second half that sent Italy off on a 13-5 run and gave the Italians a 54-42 lead.

Puerto Rico closed to within six points, 66-60, with 6:31 remaining on an Arroyo jumper, but once again Italy pulled away when Gianmarco Pozzecco scored in the paint, 68-60. Puerto Rico was unable to score on the next four possessions and fouled Italy on three of its following possessions. Puerto Rico did not score again until Ayuso drained a jump shot with 2:19 remaining. The Italians led by as many as 15 in the final quarter, 83-68.

Italy now plays Lithuania in the semifinal while the United States will meet Argentina in the other. The last time Puerto Rico advanced to an Olympic basketball semifinal was 1964, precisely during Raymond Dalmau’s playing days. The resulting fourth-place finish is still Puerto Rico’s best to date at an Olympics.

Puerto Rico’s basketball analysts (the bars and coffee shops are full of them this week) will be quick to say that coach Julio Toro’s so called "intentional" loss to Greece, 78-58, to end the first round, came back to haunt him. But even if Toro had pushed his team beyond exhaustion and even if Puerto Rico had beaten Greece, the fact remains that Argentina would have been no easier as a quarterfinal rival than Italy was. In fact, Argentina beat Greece, 69-64, to reach its first Olympic semifinal since 1952.

Should Puerto Rico beat Greece Saturday, it will have exceeded all expectations. And even without any medals around their necks, the Puerto Ricans can still come home knowing they will in all probability be just one of two teams in the Olympics to have defeated the United States. No matter what happens, Puerto Rico’s 92-73 victory over the United States will go down in history as the island’s shining moment in Athens 2004.

Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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