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Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006

Puerto Rico recovers from U.S. loss


Special to The Japan Times

SAPPORO -- Energy, speed, intensity -- the Puerto Rican basketball teamhasn't disappointed at the FIBA World Championship yet.

Puerto Rico's stars are not as renowned as the Americans to whom they lostin Saturday's opener, but Puerto Rico showed it could bring good basketballto the floor, recovering with an 88-79 win over Senegal on Sunday atHokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.

Although it ultimately fell to the U.S., Orlando Magic guard Carlos Arroyoand his teammates have won over fans in Sapporo.

"We're small and fast, and we know how to play in the open field," guardChristian Dalmau said. "Our advantage is the running game, making sure Carlos Arroyo can get the ball whenever he wants because his pick and roll play is really good. We've got to take advantage of that."

Unquestionably, Arroyo is the heart of the team. The 188-cm guard scored23 points against Team USA and 29 against Senegal, both game-highs. Arroyo also grabbed six boards in the Senegal game.

As Dalmau said, Arroyo touches the ball and tries to attack the basketmore often than anyone on the team. That is the key to his success.

"My job is to run the team," Arroyo said Sunday. "So when nobody is scoring and offense is down, I try to create chances to score."

The 27-year-old Arroyo seems to be more lively and is putting more energy on the floor with the national team inthe tournament. He has outplayed his opposition in both games, includingAmericans Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich.

Puerto Rico is playing around Arroyo for sure, but other guards have been brilliant as well. And because the team's offense is built aroundguardplay, Puerto Rico's games even more exciting to watch.

Asked if it is a tradition of the country to play around quick guards, Arroyo said, "No, that's the system the coach (Julio Toro) has made.

"But it is true we have great shooters like (Elias) Ayuso, Dalmau, (Rick) Apodaca on the bench. Carmelo Antrone is a good player, too."

So far Puerto Rico's offense is working well. Now it's only issue is in defense, and something Arroyo is well aware of.

"We need to get better in defense, need to get better in rebounding," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing. Rebounding leads us to fast breaks foreasy baskets."

Arroyo said their primary goal is to go through to the second round in Saitama. If they continue to improve through the rest of group play, it isa realistic goal for the Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Rico's next game is against Yao Ming-led China on Tuesday.

DID YOU KNOW?: Puerto Rico stunned the world by defeating the UnitedStates in the Athens Olympics in 2004. Arroyo scored 24 points and led the teamto a 92-73 victory.

Asked what the secret to play well against the U.S. always, Arroyo said, "When you play a team like the U.S., you have to play almost perfect. You can make no mistakes. You've got to appreciate every possession in the game."



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