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Dominican Republic victorious in first step to Olympics

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The Dominican Republic National Team and John Calipari took the first step in reaching their Olympic goals Tuesday with a 95-85 win over South Korea in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. In a tight affair, the Dominicans rallied late before hold off South Korea behind a 30-point performance by Al Horford.

The former Florida Gator and current Atlanta Hawks forward had a monstrous second half, scoring 21 of his 30 points after halftime, while adding in 12 rebounds to notch a double-double. He was the key to kick-starting the Dominican offense that struggled through the first half.

Horford led the way in the first half with nine points for the Dominican Republic, but they trailed a balanced South Korean squad, 41-37. While Horford was getting buckets, Dominican forward Jack Michael Martinez owned the boards grabbing 12 rebounds at halftime.

The third quarter saw Horford put his team on his back to scratch back into a tie game with South Korea at 52-52 with six minutes left in the third quarter, and then used a 6-0 run to gain a 65-58 lead in the period. At the end of the period, it looked as if the Calipari-led Dominican team might have a comfortable lead heading into the fourth.

There was plenty of fight left in the South Koreans, however. The stormed back to take a 78-77 lead over the Dominicans with four minutes to go in the final period as the momentum had shifted. But Horford came back to the rescue and the Dominicans went on another 6-0 run to pull ahead 82-77 with 3:53 left, and there was no looking back.

The Dominicans held on and pushed out to a 10-point lead with the final tally reading 95-85. Horford finished with 30 to lead all scorers, and Martinez finished with 16 points and continued his dominance of the glass with 25 rebounds, three short of the South Koreans total rebound total for the game. The Dominican Republic completely out-rebounded South Korea 58-28.

With the win, Calipari and the Dominicans pulled much closer to reaching their goal of qualifying for the Olympics. The win Tuesday made the dream much more likely, clinching a quarterfinal spot. They will have another game Wednesday against Russia. The top two teams from their three-team group (Russia and South Korea) will face the top two performers from Group D (Macedonia, New Zealand and Angola) in the quarterfinals. 

The top three teams in the tournament will advance to the Olympics, so the Dominican Republic must reach the semifinals or win the third-place/fourth-place game to participate.

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