By JANIE McCAULEY | Associated Press Sports Writer
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Four games, 46 points — that’s been the spread in the United States women’s basketball team’s four losses to Cuba in an 11-day span.
The Cubans’ 84-62 victory Saturday in the first game of round-robin play was the largest margin yet. Cuba swept the Americans in three exhibition games July 22-24 in Havana, including a three-point win in the opener.
These teams are getting to know each other so well they’ve become rivals. And both sides seem to believe there will be a fifth meeting before the Pan American Games are over.
“The most frustrating part of it is that we have played them four times and we haven’t been successful,” American forward Nicole Powell of Stanford said. “A 14-point lead is nothing.”
Cuba’s Yakelin Plutin reacts after her team defeated U.S.A. 84-62 at the 2003 Pan American Games, Saturday Aug. 2, 2003, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. At left is U.S.A.‘s Barbara Turner. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
When Cuba star Yaquelin Plutin saw that her team would open against the United States here, she couldn’t quite believe it. Plutin knew the teams would likely meet, just not in the first game.
“It’s very hard to beat a team four times in a row,” said Plutin, who scored a game-high 18 points and led her team’s impressive second-half comeback. “We are accustomed to playing them and they are accustomed to playing us.”
Plutin and her teammates increased their defensive intensity in the second half and became more efficient on offense to erase a 14-point halftime deficit. The Cubans began the third quarter by scoring 15 straight points as the Americans went cold from the field.
“We changed our way of play in the second half,” Plutin said.
Cuba, which muscled its way inside and started pressing from the half-court line, shot 49 percent (29-for-59) after a poor first half in which it made only 11-of-30 attempts. The Americans failed to handle the aggressive defensive pressure and struggled to get open looks at the basket.
Ann Strother and Laurie Koehn each scored 11 for the Americans, who managed only 16 points in the second half.
“We know each other so well,” U.S. coach Debbie Ryan said, referring to Cuba. “They came out with a lot more energy and we didn’t have energy. They pressured and we didn’t handle the pressure.”
The top four teams from the preliminary rounds advance to the semifinals.
“We’re still in it,” Powell said. “We’ve still got another shot, and we could potentially play Cuba again.”
Cuba coach Jose Ramirez sure thinks it’ll happen.
“The United States is a very good team for the future,” Ramirez said.
The game tipped off 10 minutes late. One of the backboards had to be adjusted because it was 2 inches too high.
The U.S. men’s team was set to open against Argentina on Saturday night.