May 18, 2014

India win 3rd SABA Basketball Championship; qualify for FIBA Asia Cup

Taking care of business. That was the theme for Indian Basketball over the past week as the senior national Men's squad visited our northern neighbours Nepal for the 3rd South Asian Basketball Championship and dismantled all our South Asian opponents in four efficient victories. India finished at the top with the final win over Maldives on Saturday, May 17th in Kathmandu, and thus qualified for the 5th FIBA Asia Cup set to be held in Wuhan (China) in mid-July.

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The tournament, organized by the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) was held from May 13-17 in Kathmandu and featured five teams: India, hosts Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. India, led by Head Coach Scott Flemming and featuring a team with a healthy mix of youth/experience and size/ball-handling skills had little trouble winning all four of their matches to finish at the top.

India started off with a bang, taking a 30-point halftime lead over Bangladesh in the first half and refusing to take their foot off the pedal en route to a 95-39 blowout victory. Up-and-coming big man Amjyot Singh - one of the most improved Indian players in recent years - was the leading scorer of a balanced Indian attack with 16 points.

India's offense remained balanced as no one topped 15 points in their second game, another massive victory over Sri Lanka, 97-30. India held their opponents to single digits in each of the first three quarters of the game.

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A fervent support followed India's opponents in the third game - Nepal - the hosts of the tournament. India took a huge 16-point lead early in the game but Nepal refused to give in, outscoring India in the second quarter. Still, the South Asian giants were too much for the hosts to handle. Prakash Mishra led all scorers with 17 points as India finished the day with a 74-41 win.

India enjoyed their best offensive outburst in the last game against the Maldives, once again relying on Mishra's game-high 16 points to overwhelm their opponents en route to a 108-32 victory. A highlight of this victory was India's brilliant third quarter, where their suffocating defense held the Maldives to just three points!

Final Standings
  • 1. India (4-0)
  • 2. Bangladesh (3-1)
  • 3. Sri Lanka (2-2)
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India will now take part in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, (formerly known as the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup), in China from July 11-19. A total of 10 countries are set to take part in this tournament, but so far, only hosts China, Iran (defending champions of the FIBA Asia Championship), and India (after winning the SABA Championship) have qualified. India's guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi hinted that India will head to China a few weeks prior to the tournament for practice games.

The South Asian opponents - although much weaker than India - did help the team prepare and find its identity once again. Indian basketball has been on a positive roll of late, since they also won the gold medal at the previous international tournament they took part in: the 2014 Lusofonia Games. But the FIBA Asia Cup will be a far trickier challenge, with some of the top Asian teams to contend with. India has never finished better that fifth in this tournament and they finished last in Tokyo (Japan) at the tournament's most recent iteration in 2012.

The SABA Championship victory was taking care of business. But now, business is about to get much harder, and while India enter the next tournament as underdogs, there will be hope among die-hard fans that they can spring up a surprise or two.

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