August 29, 2011

China wins FIBA Women's ABC; India finish 6th

China continued their dominance over Asian basketball, especially in the Women's division, by bagging the biggest title in the region once more. China's stars Nan Chen and Miao Lijie came up big in the crucial moments of the game and took their side to a 65-62 win over Korea and clinch the gold medal in the 24th FIBA Asia Basketball Championship for Women in Omura, Japan, on Sunday.

This was China's 11th victory in this competition, which has been held 24 times. Their opponents in the final, Korea, have won the gold 12 times. China have now won the FIBA Asia Women's Championship five out of the past six times. The two finalists, with 23 of the 24 golds in the tournament's history shared between them, are certainly familiar with each other, as this was their fourth consecutive meeting in the final of this competition.

The final was a close, up-and-down game, in which neither team refused to give the other much breathing space. After trailing by 2 points at the end of the third quarter, China pulled away in the fourth, hitting some crucial baskets, for the emotional three point win. Miao Lijie, who was named MVP of the tournament, paced China with 20 points, Me Zengyu added 19, and Nan Chen had 17 for China.

Earlier on Sunday, hosts Japan beat Chinese Taipei 83-56 to finish third in the competition.

Meanwhile, a rebooted Indian side, with its experienced American coach Pete Gaudet, didn't exactly show many performances to write home about. India had been handed the gift and the curse of playing in 'Level I' of the competition, with all the powerhouse sides in Asia, for a chance to play meaningful games and win the tournament. While India have proven to be stronger than the majority of Asian teams in this tournament in recent years, there is still a wide gulf when it comes to competition against the best. The Indian team lost all five of their Preliminary Round games, but won a playoff against Malaysia to qualify for Level I again in the 2013 Championship and return with a 1-5 record.

India played their first game against Chinese Taipei, who started off slow, but quickly settled in and blew past us. Led by Liu Chun-Yi's 19 points, Chinese Taipei defeated India by 28 points, 81-53 - the only positive for India in this game was that the performance against the same rivals was better than what India showed at the William Jones Cup only weeks earlier. India were led, unsurprisingly, by the stalwart Center Geethu Anna Jose, who had 18 points and 8 rebounds in the game.

Eventual finalists Korea were next on the bill for the Indian Women: Once again, India started well defensively, as Korea held to a slim 17-12 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. However, India had offensive problems of their own, and no one but Geethu showed any capability of being able to score easily. Geethu had another dominant game - 27 points and 10 rebounds - scoring more than half of India's points on the night. It wasn't enough, as Korea used a 19-2 run to close the first half and cruise to a 83-47 win. Ajeong Kang had 17 points for Korea.

Things didn't get any easier for Gaudet's squad, as the very next afternoon, they faced China. China unleashed their giant Center Wei Wei - the tallest player in the tournament - to counter Geethu. Standing at 6 foot 9 inches, India had no answer for her, despite a surprisingly strong start (once more). The game was tied 12-12 at the end of the first quarter, and India led by 2 a few minutes into the second. But China woke up and completely flipped the game around, going on a 32-8 run in the third and then 27-12 in the fourth quarter, destroying India by 49 points to win 87-38. After the game, Gaudet conceded that his team threw in the towel in the second half. “There was a point at which we realized we couldn’t continue fighting hard and last the competition. I am glad we fought very hard in the early part."

Hosts Japan played India in their fourth game, and this time, India failed to notch a positive start, scoring only five points in the first quarter. Behind 22 points and 14 rebounds by Moeka Nagaoka, Japan saw no resistance from India, apart from a 16 point outing by Geethu. Japan won 79-51.

So far, each of India's opponents had been ranked far ahead them in the FIBA rankings, but when India (ranked 41) took on Lebanon (ranked 55) in the last Preliminary Round game, it was our chance to get a crucial victory and hope to improve on last tournament's showing by finishing 5th. Alas, it was not to be: Lebanon put the clamp on India's offense early and flew to a 17 point lead in the first quarter. India played well in the second quarter, but led their opponents run away again after halftime. A huge run in the fourth was still not enough to stop India from going down by 19, 71-52. Chada Nasr of Lebanon had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Brittany Janelle Denson added 16 points with 7 rebounds. For India, it was again the Geethu lone show, as the Keralite scored 21 points to go with 9 boards.

Finishing at the bottom of Level I, it came down to a crucial playoff game against Level II top-finishers Malaysia for India to hope to remain in the competition. The game between the two closely-matched sides was as exciting as advertised, as the teams exchanged the lead during the first two and half quarters, before India began to pull away for good. For the first time India had a major high scorer apart from Geethu, as her Southern Railway teammate Anitha Pauldurai paced the side with 23 points and five assists. Geethu added 18, to go with 10 rebounds. Malaysia made a comeback in the fourth, but two clutch drives by Prashanti Singh sealed India's lone victory in the competition, 66-60.

India’s best player during the course of the championship was, not-so-shockingly, Geethu Anna Jose, who finished as the tournament’s third leading scorer (18.7 points per game) and sixth leading rebounder (7.2 rebounds per game). Geethu led India in points, rebounds, and blocks.

Siddarth Sharma has done a great job in compiling all the stats - totals and averages - of the Indian players in the six games that India played in the tournament in an article for SportsKeeda. Besides Geethu, the only other Indian player to average double digits in points was Anitha Pauldurai, who chipped in 10.5 points per game, and also led India with 2.7 assists per game.

The team returns back from Japan on Monday night, and will be relatively free of any major tournaments in the near future. Before heading to Japan, Gaudet only had a few months with the squad - we hope that by the time we return to this tournament in 2013, India would be ready to take the next step, and maybe win a game or two in Level I!

Final Standings

1. China
2. Korea
3. Japan
4. Chinese Taipei
5. Lebanon

Tournament All Star Team:

  • Miao Lijie (China) MVP
  • Choi Youn-Ah (Korea)
  • Yuko Oga (Japan)
  • Sin Jung-Ja (Korea)
  • Nan Chen (China)

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