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Cubans Defect In Loss To U.S.

With four Cubans seeming defectors, the Americans played defective.

The United States went through the motions Sunday and defeated Cuba 88-52 after learning of the likely defections of four Cubans players prior to tip-off.

The point total was the second-lowest total for the Americans in 34 games using NBA players in 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1999, only one point higher than the 87 the United States had against Angola at the 1996 Olympics.

So poorly did the Americans play that a near-sellout crowd broke into a boisterous chant of "Cu-ba, Cu-ba" late in the first half as the Cubans, playing with just three regulars and five scrubs, were managing to keep the game close.

A 3-pointer by Angel Nunez with under 2 minutes remaining cut the U.S. team's to 43-32, and Cuba could have trailed by just nine points at intermission if Edel Casanova hadn't blown a wide-open layup and two free throws just before the buzzer.

The United States, whose lackluster effort and general laziness bordered on shocking, eventually turned the game into a laugher with a 16-0 run midway though the second half for a 69-37 lead.

Allan Houston scored 17 points, Kevin Garnett had 12 and Gary Payton 11. Jason Kidd handed out 10 assists.

Nunez led all scorers with 18.

When the Cubans arrived at the arena about an hour before gametime, only eight players were present.

Missing were three of the team's four leading scorers: Lazaro Borrell, a 26-year-old center; Roberto Herrera, 24, a guard; and Angel Cabellero, 28, a guard. A fourth player, 23-year-old center Hector Pino, also was missing.

Herrera is the son of Cuban Basketball Federation president Ruperto Herrera. His brother, Ruperto Jr., defected in Argentina in May.

"We don't know if they defected or if they are with some Puerto Rican women. What I can say is that they are not in the arena," coach Miguel Calderon said. "They have not told us anything. Until they tell us something, we cannot make statements."

None of the Cuban players would comment. One of them, 22-year-old center Amiel Vega, drew his finger across his mouth. Two other Cubans walked away when approached by a reporter.

The Pan American basketball federation issued a press release confirming there were four missing Cuban players. No one could immediately say for certain that they had defected.

Cuba has lost all four of its games in the 10-nation tournament and was eliminated from Group A with its loss to the United States.

The top two teams advance to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Cuba has a history of defections at sports events, especially in baseball and often in Puerto Rico.

In 1993, basketball player Andres Guibert defected at a tournament in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

He later played briefly for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Two other Cuban basketball players defected during the 1994 basketball World Campionships in Toronto.

The most prominent baseball defector is Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who fled Cuba in December 1997 and signed with the New York Yankees. There was also Hernandez' half-brother, Livan Hernandez of the Florida Marlins and major leaguers Rene Arocha, Osvaldo Fernandez, Rey Ordonez, Ariel Prieto and Rolando Arrojo.

In May, Cuban baseball coach Rigoberto Betancourt Herrera defected to the United States during the national team's visit to Baltimore for an exhibition game against the Orioles.

In an earlier game, Argentina defeated Uruguay 97-81. In late games, it was the Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico and Panama vs. Brazil.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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