Tough defense to start each half set the tone as the USA defeated Cuba 84-48 in a FIBA qualifying contest Friday night at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California.

Fifteen American points were posted before Cuba could mount their own charge in the first quarter and the second half started with a 7-0 run. Both ominous signs for the visitors who have only beaten the United States only once in international play.

It was a heavy dose of Xavier Silas (13 points) on offense at the outset and a steady stream of Rodney Purvis (14 points) throughout the game to lead team USA. Afterward, head coach Jeff Van Gundy praised the disruptive presence of Sioux Falls Skyforce guard Larry Drew II and Reno Bighorns guard David Stockton on the perimeter that made Cuba uncomfortable.

“They have a good front line and I thought our ball pressure took their post game out of play. They set a great tone defensively.”

Cuba got 11 points from Yoanki Mensia and 10 from Omel Oliva as the only two in double figures. As a team the Cubans only shot 25 percent from the floor.

The mission now is to defeat a Puerto Rican squad on Monday that just beat Mexico by 20 and pushed the Americans to a seven-point decision back in November. Van Gundy cast no illusions about the task in front of them.

“It will be a totally different game. They have great perimeter play. We were fortunate to win (by seven in November) because we made some timely shots. They outplayed us the whole game.”

The top three teams in the group advance to the second round of qualifying. Currently the USA is undefeated in Group C and Puerto Rico is 2-1. First round FIBA qualifying ends in early July.


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