Early in tonight's game with Cuba, U.S. basketball star Cheryl Miller missed a shot and reacted by stamping her feet in anger. The crowd in El Poliedro whistled in derision.
By game's end, those same fans were lined up in the first row to slap hands with Miller, as the 6-foot-2 sophomore from Southern California scored 30 points to lead the United States to a 100-82 victory that virtually wrapped up the gold medal in the Pan American games.
The U.S. men finally enjoyed a good night, too. With Oklahoma sophomore Wayman Tisdale exploiting three Canadian centers for 29 points, the United States pulled away in the second half for a 111-97 decision that erased the embarrassment of the World University games.
The women were atoning for a setback that dated back four years, to the gold medal game in the 1979 Pan Ams at San Juan. UCLA graduate Denise Curry is the only returnee from the 1979 squad and for her the victory was more of a thrill than carrying the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony here
"I waited four long years for this and it feels good," said Curry, who scored 12 points and battled the Cubans on the boards. "I don't usually have revenge in mind, but 1979 was the last time we played them and virtually all the Cubans who played tonight were on that team."
Miller's 18 first-half points helped the United States build a 43-38 lead. It was 52-49 early in the second half when the winners scored 12 straight points to break things open. Miller and Curry both hit from long range in that surge and left the Cubans looking bewildered.
Shooting was the one phase of the game in which the Cubans could not match the United States. And they rarely even tried to hit from outside. When they did, the results were poor.
"Cuba has a good inside game, but outside they usually don't shoot very well," said U.S. Coach Fran Garmon. "We really wanted Cuba and we've spent a lot of time scouting them. We broke it open with a press and a zone, which we used more tonight than we usually do."
The United States is the only undefeated team, with a 3-0 record, and needs to win only one of its two remaining games against Venezuela and Puerto Rico to take the gold. Neither of those squads has won a game.
"We knew this was practically the gold medal game," Miller said. "I try to stay as intense as I can, but I was a little more intense than usual tonight. I've really enjoyed playing here. It's a different style from home and a lot more physical, but it's fun.
"The fans usually root against us, but I've found if you're nice to them, they're all right, except I guess when we play Venezuela. But I play better against adversity anyway."
While the women have overcome the loss of Lataunya Pollard, the men have been reduced to 10 by Chris Mullin's broken ankle and Michael Cage's departure because of illness of his father. Playing five games in five days, of which this was the first in the six-team final, has Coach Jack Hartman concerned.
"When you play two games in two days, you're concerned, let alone five in five," Hartman said. "And with the great consistency between the quality of the teams here you can't afford to relax."
The United States won four gold medals in freestyle wrestling. Barry Davis of Bloomfield, Ill., won the gold in the 126-pound class, Randy Lewis of Rapid City, N.D., took the 137-pound category, Leroy Kemp of Chardon, Ohio, won the 163-pound division and Greg Gibson of Stafford, Va., captured the 220-pound class.
The United States continued to lead the medals race, with 89 golds to 54 for Cuba and 10 for Canada.