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MADRID (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) - Latvia survived a three-point shooting barrage by Japan’s Ryoko Yano to seal first place in Group A in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
Ainars Zvirgzdins’ team, which destroyed Senegal in its opener, trailed for much of the contest against the very quick Japanese but ended up prevailing 83-69.
The Latvians, one of the favourites to advance to the Beijing Games, trailed by as many as five and were still behind 64-62 early in the fourth quarter after a remarkable shooting performance from Yano.
The Japanese star was five of eight from three-point (63%) range over the first three quarters, and her team’s passing and overall quickness was giving the Baltic side fits.
But Ieva Tare and Latvia, buoyed on by the incredible fan support that has followed them all the way from Riga to Madrid, refused to cave in.
Tare scored 12 of her game-high 25 points in the last 7:48 of the final quarter to fire the Latvians to victory.
One of her jumpers levelled the game at 64-64, and another put Latvia in front for good at 66-64.
Japan were brilliant, though.
Tomohide Utsumi’s team fought to the end and still only trailed 71-69 with 4:37 to go following a jumper in the paint from Naomi Yashiro.
What followed were baskets from Ieva Kublina and Liene Jansone, and a three-pointer by Tare as Latvia finished the game with a 12-0 run.
Latvia guard Gunta Basko paid tribute to the Japanese.
“I think they are excellent shooters, they play really, really hard,” she said.
“They’re really fast and move very well. So I think it was important that we came out tonight, made sure we were posting up strongly and not going into their state of mind of running and being crazy.
“It was good that we stayed calm, ran when we needed to and defended when we needed to.”