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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:31 p.m., Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pan Am Games: U.S. women beat Brazil for hoops title

Associated Press Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Mattee Ajavon saw that something had to be done, so she came up with a thrilling scoring run late in the game. That rallied the United States past Brazil in the women's basketball final at the Pan American Games on Tuesday.

Ajavon scored 24 of her 27 points in the second half — and 15 in the final quarter — as the Americans beat host Brazil 79-66 to win their first Pan Ams since 1987.

The U.S. team of collegians trailed for much of the first three quarters before Ajavon stepped it up.

"It was either me or somebody else on my team," she said. "They played better in the beginning, so we had to turn it around."

The title was too important to give up, she said.

"It's a big win for our country," she said. "We are all young players, but we want to represent our country well."

The United States hadn't won the title since the Indianapolis games. It was coming off a second-place finish to Cuba at the 2003 games in Santo Domingo.

"We are a very young team, but these players come from good programs and are used to playing big games," U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. "Our depth offset our youth and inexperience."

The U.S. team picked up the lead with 8:43 left in the last quarter, led by as much as eight, and never trailed again.

"Brazil has a good team and had the crowd behind them, so we had to do something," Ajavon said.

Brazil led for most of the first half, ahead by as much as six, but finishing only 34-33 on top.

Ajavon, of Rutgers, led the American rally in the third quarter, but Adriana hit a couple of 3-pointers to put Brazil up 53-49 before the final period.

"She is very explosive, and I've seen that kind of outburst from her before," Staley said. "But I was surprised she had that much left in the tank late in the game."

Ajavon again took over in the fourth, scoring nine points in the last five minutes.

"We played together and kept our composure, that gave us the win," said Louisville's Angel McCoughtry, who added 17 points to the United States.

The American team is the winningest at the Pan Ams with seven titles, and has never finished off the podium.

Brazil was trying to win its fourth Pan Ams gold, and first since 1991 in Havana. It was third in Santo Domingo.

"Obviously we didn't play a good game offensively," Brazil coach Antonio Barbosa said. "But we have to give credit to the American team. I don't think we lost, I think they won."

The final in front of 13,200 fans at Multisport Arena marked the farewell of 38-year-old Janeth, retiring after a 21-year career for Brazil highlighted by the world championship title in 1994 and the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She also helped the Houston Comets dominate the WNBA with four straight titles (1997-2000) in the league's early years.

Janeth, who began playing for Brazilian youth squads in 1986, competed alongside Paula and Hortencia in the team that won the 1991 Pan Ams.

The crowd chanted Janeth's name several times and some held banners saying "Don't go Janeth" and "Thank You Janeth."

She scored 14 points, and left the court crying.

"It's sad to leave with the silver instead of the gold," she said. "But this doesn't erase all the good memories I've had in the sport."

Barbosa also retired after the game.

Cuba, which had won the last two Pan Ams, beat Canada 62-49 to win the bronze medal in Rio. Yakelyn Plutin led all scorers with 20 points for Cuba.