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Argentina 91, Brazil 80

Argentina clinches a berth in Beijing

LAS VEGAS - Argentina will get to defend its Olympic gold medal.

Luis Scola scored 27 points and Argentina, playing without four NBA players from the team that won the gold in 2004, beat Brazil, 91-80, yesterday in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas basketball tournament to earn a berth in the Beijing Olympics.

Scola, who signed with the Houston Rockets, and Carlos Delfino, who plays for the Toronto Raptors, were the NBA stars for this Argentina team, which lost one game in this tournament - 91-76 to the United States in the second round.

The four NBA players from the gold medal team - Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni, and Walter Herrmann - all are expected to join Argentina for the 2008 Olympics.

Those earning berths in Beijing are Argentina; the winner of yesterday's US-Puerto Rico semifinal; China, the host; Spain, the reigning world champion; and zone champions Iran, Angola, and Australia. Two European entrants will be decided this month.

Brazil, the loser of the US-Puerto Rico semifinal, and fifth-place finisher Canada will advance to a 12-team qualifying tournament next July that will determine the final berths in Beijing.

Brazil, despite losing center Nene to a knee injury four minutes into the game, was able to take a 51-40 lead with 7:13 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Leandro Barbosa.

That's when Scola and Delfino stepped up.

With Scola attacking the basket and Delfino finally finding his touch, Argentina closed the quarter with a 25-5 run that gave it a 65-56 lead. Scola had 10 points and Delfino, who missed his first six shots from the field until this run, added 7 points.

Just as in their second meeting, which Argentina won, 87-69, in overtime, Brazil stayed close, getting within 3 points twice in the final 1:44.

Tiago Splitter scored on a putback for Brazil to make it 81-78 with 1:14 left but Paolo Quinteros of Argentina hit his only 3-point attempt of the game with 55 seconds left to start a 7-0 run that put the game away.

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