HAVANA -- They were the immovable object of women's basketball, a team with 10 professionals, five former Olympians and seven players taller than 6 feet.
They were carrying a 42-game international winning streak, gobbling up gold medals at two Olympics, two World Championships, two Goodwill Games and two Pan American Games.
And then, the American women ran into the Brazilians. Yesterday, before a swaying, flag-waving crowd, Brazil shocked the United States, 87-84, in an opening-round match at the Pan Am Games.
Although both teams remain alive in the tournament, the game was nearly as historic as Brazil's upset of the U.S. men in the 1987 Pan Am final. In that game, Oscar Schmidt carried the Brazilian team past the dumbfounded American men in Indianapolis.
Yesterday, it was Hortencia de Fatima Marcari Oliva, 31, and Maria Paula Da Silva, 29, who took out the Americans. On the court, they're known simply as Hortencia and Paula, two headstrong guards who live on jump shots and fast breaks.
Marcari scored 18 points and hit a jump shot with 24 seconds left to give Brazil an 85-82 lead. Da Silva added 22 points and then cartwheeled across the court to celebrate.
The wild card in the shuffle was Marta De Souza, a high-jumping forward who scored 24 and battered the Americans up front.
The United States was led by Teresa Edwards, who had 20 points and six assists, but was limited to 22 minutes because of four fouls. Katrina McClain added 16 points.
"We didn't think about the streak. We were out there to win the game," said center Andrea Lloyd after the United States absorbed its first international loss since the 1982 World Championships.
"We didn't have the killer instinct," U.S. coach Vivian Stringer said. "But these players are champions. I don't have any question that they will come out harder and more determined then before."
According to Brazilian coach Maria Cardoso, the upset was nearly four years in the making. Cardoso, a player on Brazil's 1971 Pam Am gold-medal team, said she paid her way to three NCAA women's Final Fours to learn and create a plan to beat the Americans.
"I believe all the time," she said. "I believed we could win."
Belief became reality at the Sports City Coliseum. Thousands of Cubans joined hundreds of flag-waving Brazilians to cheer for the upset. The only thing missing was a samba drum.
"I always think that we can beat the U.S. team," Hortencia said. "I wanted to do it because we worked hard for that."
The Brazilians fell behind, 26-8, midway through the first half, but with Marcari on the bench and Da Silva making three-pointers, they managed to close within 45-40 before halftime.
In the second half, De Souza obliterated the Americans from the corners and Brazil burst to a 75-68 advantage with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. The United States last held a lead at 78-77 on McClain's follow shot.
At the end, it was Marcari, her hair tied up in a red ribbon, who crushed the Americans. She burst by Edwards and hit the fadeaway jumper for the unreachable 87-84 lead.
"I was hoping it wouldn't go in," Edwards said. "But Hortencia is a great player. She shoots like that the whole game."
The loss didn't finish off the Americans in the five-team round-robin tournament. With a 1-1 record in pool play, they're expected to coast into the medal round, where they will likely have another chance to play the Brazilians.
"How will we respond?" Edwards said. "Like a winning team will respond. We're not down and out. This will give you a good story. We have to do what we have to do. I think our actions will speak loud."
But the Brazilians say they look forward to a rematch. They have come to Cuba in search of a gold medal.
"I feel we can beat them again," Cardoso said. "We have two of the best players in the world. Now I have younger players with them. Hortencia and Paula, they are the present and the past. I have other players who are the present and the future."
"I don't believe my team is the best in the world," Cardoso added. "The U.S.A. went 42 games without a loss. We have to respect them. I believe the U.S.A. is the best. But today, we beat them, and I am happy."