SAPPORO (FIBA World Championship) - Hot-shooting Larry Ayuso lifted Puerto Rico to a triumph over China in overtime on Tuesday at the FIBA World Championship.
Ayuso made seven of nine shots from the arc and poured in 27 points as the Puerto Ricans edged a 90-87 thriller in Sapporo for their second win in Group D.
One of his national team's top players at the Olympics two years ago, Ayuso caught fire in the extra period and scored nine points.
His jump shot with 3:29 left in overtime gave Puerto Rico an 82-76 lead, and after China closed to 82-79, the former star at the University of Southern California buried a three-pointer with 2:38 to play.
With the Asian Champions on the ropes, Ayuso then delivered the knockout punch with his final three-pointer of the game to make it 88-80 with 1:34 remaining.
"I'm happy to step up when my team needs me," said Ayuso.
"I had the opportunity to take those shots and fortunately they went in."
China got another outstanding effort from Yao Ming, who finished with a game-high 29 points and pulled down eight rebounds, but it was wasted as they lost for the third time in the tournament.
Yao fouled out five minutes into the fourth quarter and what a setback it proved to be for the Far East side.
"Yao is Yao," said China coach Jonas Kazlauskas, whose team had taken a 24-16 lead after 10 minutes of play and had gone into the break trailing 39-38.
"It was a big loss for us.
"I want to see again the game on video and watch the referees' decisions on those fouls called on Yao."
Puerto Rico know they are likely to qualify for the next round, while China must beat Senegal and Slovenia just to have a chance of finishing in the top four of the group needed to advance to Saitama.
Julio Toro's men failed to qualify at last year's FIBA Americas Championship as most of their established players were unavailable for the tournament in Santo Domingo, but they were granted one of four wild cards by FIBA for the expanded tournament.
The only side to beat them so far is Team USA, but they face difficult games against Slovenia and Italy.
China will know this is a game they could have won and probably should have.
With 8:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, Zhu Fangyu's three-pointer gave them a 67-56 lead but the experienced team from the Americas struck right back.
Daniel Santiago scored four straight points on strong moves, including a dunk with 7:49 to play to make it 67-60.
Santiago then triggered a fast break by blocking Liu Wei's shot in the lane, with Carlos Arroyo scoring to make it 67-62.
Santiago scored on two more moves down low after a Du Feng free throw and Puerto Rico trailed 68-66.
China were clinging to a 71-69 lead with 4:40 to play when Yao picked up his fifth foul.
Without their big center, China still had a chance with Du F making a three for a 76-74 lead, but A Latimer's lay-up with 23 secs tied the game. Fouled on the play, he missed the free throw but Rick Apodaca grabbed the rebound.
Puerto Rico ran the clock down to two seconds and Arroyo missed, to send the game to overtime.
"We had this game in our pockets and in the last seconds we lost two rebounds," said Kazlaukas.
"Had we grabbed those rebounds we would have taken our first win."
Santiago's lay-up at the start gave Puerto Rico the lead for good, while Ayuso's heroics at the end made certain there would be no Chinese comeback.
By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, FIBA