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Italy vs Puerto Rico
2006 FIBA World Championship, Sapporo, Japan
24/08/2006Game Report, Italy vs Puerto Rico 73-72, GROUP D

SAPPORO (FIBA World Championship) - Larry Ayuso poured in 25 points but it wasn't enough to carry Puerto Rico past Italy in Thursday's Group D clash in Sapporo.

The team from the Americas, who received a wild card to play in the FIBA World Championship, waved goobye to the tournament.

Puerto Rico turned the ball over twice in the last minute of the game as Italy held on for a 73-72 win.

Ayuso cut his team's deficit to 73-72 with 30 seconds left to play.

The Italians let the clock run before Andrea Pecile's jump shot attempt with four seconds remaining rimmed out and Carlos Arroyo went to the other end but by the time he launched a desperate three-point attempt, time had run out.

With China having beaten Slovenia earlier in the day with a shot at the buzzer to assure themselves a place in the last 16, Julio Toro's men, who had lost to Slovenia on Wednesday, needed to beat Italy in order to progress to the next round.

As it is, tournament debutants Slovenia will travel with Team USA, Italy and China to Saitama for the final round.

"The best team won today," said Puerto Rican guard Rick Apodaca, who poured in 12 points and held down nine rebounds.

"To be at the losing end is really painful but life must continue.

"We lost the two crucial games and we are going home."

Italy trailed 43-38 at half-time but got their noses in front with two minutes to go in the third quarter on a Matteo Soragna jumper.

That made it 55-54 and the Azzurri led the rest of the way.

Italy, who have finished second of Group D behind Team USA, travel to Saitama with a growing confidence following their fantastic week in Sapporo.

"The important thing is that we maintained concentration during the game," said Italy's Angelo Gigli.

"We were perhaps tired today but where our legs couldn't reach our hearts did.

"We are really satisfied to finish second of the group, we knew that we could compete with any team of our group, with the exception of USA."

By Cindy Garcia-Bennett
FIBA