October 4, 2014

Recap: India at 2014 Asian Games basketball tournament; Hosts South Korea win double gold


South Korea defended their home turf in style, as both their Men and Women's squads outperformed higher-ranked squads to secure the gold medal at the Basketball tournament of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon. Both the finals of the tournament were held at the Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon on Friday, October 3rd, the penultimate day of events at the Asian Games. South Korea's Men won a thrilling contest against Iran, while their Women's squad edged to a victory over China.

Topsy-turvy performances by India saw some positive moments but also left a lot to be desired. India's Men finished 12th (out of 16) and Women finished 6th (out of 11).

The basketball tournament at the Games was held at the Samsan World Gymnasium and the Hwaseong Sports Complex from September 20 - October 3.

After trailing by two at halftime, Korea's Women took a third quarter lead over China in the final, before surviving in the final minutes to a 70-64 victory. Yeonha Beon scored a team-high 16 for South Korea, while on the Chinese end, Xiufeng Shi scored 16 too. As hosts, Korea had made sure to send their top 'A' squad to the Asian Games tournament, while their 'B' team played at the FIBA World Championship for Women. China, who also qualified for FIBA Worlds, did the reverse.

In the Men's final, South Korea again rallied on their home support to take an early lead against FIBA Asia champs Iran and hold on to secure the gold despite a strong comeback by the Iranians in the second half. Behind the efforts of their superstar Taejong Moon (19 points) and Jongkyu Kim (17), Korea raced to a nine point lead in the first quarter and held a 42-36 advantage at the halftime break. But Iran - boosted by a 30-point outing by captain Mohammadsamad Nik Khahbahrami - bounced back to take a lead in the third. Down by five in the game's last two minutes, Korea bounced back to take a lead with just 36 seconds left in the game, and a missed last shot by Iran's Khahbahrami secured the hosts a 79-77 win.

Earlier in the day, Japanese Women survived another back-and-forth close contest versus Chinese Taipei to secure the bronze medal with a 61-59 win. Japan's Men won the bronze too, but it didn't come easy against the surprise team of the tournament, Kazakhstan. Kosuke Kanamaru scored 21 points for Japan, who only put the Kazakhs away for good in the game's waning minutes for a 76-72 win. Kosuke Takeuchi added 17 points for the victors, while Kazakhstan's Dmitriy Gavrilov scored a game-high 22 points in the losing effort.

A couple of days earlier, Xiufeng Shi (20) and Dan Liu (18) helped China's Women bounce back from an early deficit to defeat Chinese Taipei 75-63 in the Semi-Final stage. Ping Jen Huang scored 19 for Chinese Taipei in the loss. In the second women's semi-final, hosts South Korea overcame a very slow start to beat Japan 58-53. Japan's Naho Miyoshi scored a game-high 18.

Japan and South Korea also faced off in the Men's semi-final, and after being locked at 34-each at halftime, the hosts once again found a second half boost to race to a 71-63 win. The Koreans overcame 18 points by Japan's Naoto Tsuji. Kazakhstan played valiantly against Iran in the other Men's semi-final, giving the Iranians trouble on all ends of the court until the game's dying seconds. But it was Khahbahrami who poured in a heroic 27 points to insure a final appearance for his nation. Kazakhstan's duo of Pavel Ilin and Anton Ponomarev scored 16 points each in the loss.

After some positive performances over the last few months, India's Men's team entered their last international competition of 2014 with some cautious optimism. India were placed in Group B of the Men's Qualifying Round in the tournament, along with Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Palestine, and their task was to finish in the top two to qualify for the Preliminary Round with Asia's stronger teams.

India started well against the minnows of their group, Palestine. The Young Cagers raced to a double digit lead in the first quarter and never looked back, hitting from all angles and playing hard on the defensive end, too. Amjyot Singh scored 25 to lead the Indian attack in the 89-49 win for India. One bright spark for Palestine was their captain Hend Sani GS Sakakani, who finished with 19 points for his side.

But India were given a brutal shock the very next day against Saudi Arabia, who were considered to be beatable opponents. The Saudis capitalized on careless offense by India to take an early lead and stretch it to 40-27 at halftime. India began to play their best basketball in the fourth quarter, but the comeback attempt was left too late and Saudi Arabia held on for a 73-67 win. Fahad Alsalik M Belal scored 17 to lead the Saudis. India's top performers were the big men duo of captain Amrit Pal Singh (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Amjyot Singh (19).

With their backs against a wall and needing a win - a convincing one at that - to qualify for the next round against the group's toughest team, India bounced back in style against Kazakhstan. In what became their best performance of the tournament, India's hot shooting gave them a 24-14 lead in the first quarter, and from then on, India held on to their double digit advantage all game. Point guard Joginder Singh hit seven three-pointers for a game-high 25 points, while veteran guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi added 16. Anton Poromarev scored 16 for Kazakhstan. India finished the game with a 80-61 win; and the margin of victory helped them qualify for the Preliminary Round by finishing top in their group, relegating Kazakhstan to second.

India thus found themselves Preliminary Round Group E, along with Asian giants Iran and Philippines, both of whom had recently represented the continent at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. India started slow against the aggressive Filipinos, who were playing their first game at the competition. The Philippines took a 50-37 lead at halftime, and a slew of bad shooting and turnovers kept India at bay. The Indians did make a strong comeback in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as they fell to a 85-76 loss. Amrit Pal Singh was the game's leading scorer with 16.

India played their fifth game in five days against Iran next, who were playing their first game at the tournament. The more athletic, experienced, and rested Iran side left no chance for an Indian upset. Despite a decent start where India were only down by six in the first quarter, Iran fed the ball to experienced big man Hamed Haddadi (16) for much of the damage in the first half and the explosive Khahbahrami (16) to dominate in the second. India were outplayed in all aspects of the game and their tiredness showed as they fell to a 76-41 loss. By finishing last in the group, they were eliminated from the tournament.

India Men finished the tournament with a 2-3 record at 12th place.

"In general this was a great experience," said Scott Flemming, Head Coach of the Indian Men's team, "Being in a setting with 45 countries and 13,000 athletes is enlightening. This was a chance, if taken advantage of, to broaden our scope globally. In regards to basketball there were things we could control and other aspects we could not control. In the areas we could control I feel as though our defense continues to be our strong point, maybe with the exception of the Philippines game. We have also improved in our shot selection and our accuracy from the field. Where we struggled at crucial times was in our defensive rebounding, free throw shooting and number of turnovers that led to points by our opponents. I will take responsibility for these short comings. They will need to be focused on even more in the future.

"We also had a few areas that we could not control," Flemming added, "Again, we played no preparation games leading up to this tournament. Many of these teams have played anywhere from 10 to 50 preparation games before coming to Korea. These are crucial to compete at these high level tournaments. We also played 2 of the top teams in Asia (Iran, Philippines) while playing 4 and 5 days in a row. They were both fresh in these games. It may not have hurt us so much if we had played in one of the other pools in the next round. But again, those things we cannot control. We ended up first in our qualifying pool. We played very well at times but we definitely need to take another step to reach those medal games. I am proud of what we have accomplished this year but there is definitely more work to be done."

India's Women, who had finished at a best-ever fifth place in last year's FIBA Asia Championship for Women, began their tournament by automatically starting in the quarter-final. The only problem? Their quarter-final opponents were reigning Asian champs Japan. The swift and talented Japanese dominated India from beginning to end, and even holding India to just five points in the opening quarter. No Indian player was able to crack double digits in scoring and Japan cruised to an easy 70-37 win, eliminating India from moving further up into the tournament.

Instead, the Indian eves fell to the 5-8th place bracket, where they first played Mongolia, losers of another quarter-final. Jeena PS got India started off on a roll and the experienced Prashanti Singh (17) took over late. India maintained a healthy distance from the Mongolians through the course of the game and held on for a 68-50 win. Mongolia's leading scorer was Ganzul Davaasuren, who finished the night with 25 points.

India's last game at the tournament was against Kazakhstan, and despite a competitive start, India were outclassed for the final three quarters of the game. Kazakhstan, who had a 15-12 lead after the first quarter, stretched their lead to 14 at halftime and then outscored India 19-4 in a big third-quarter surge. Kazakhstan finished the night with a 68-47 win and were secured of fifth place at the tournament.

India Women finished the tournament with a 1-2 record at sixth place.

"On paper, if you check that we were at 6th position, you might think we played a good tournament," said Francisco Garcia, Head Coach of India's Women's team, "And of course, 6th position is good since that we had the youngest team in competition. But the reality is that we did not find our pace in this championship. Mainly we faced teams with players who play around 60 games a season and came to Incheon with 10-15 practice games before the tournament began. We came here with zero practice games after three camps. And of course there is no team in the world who do that before a championship. I am really dissappointed about that."

"We have been asking since a long time ago to create pro leagues for men and women and no one listen to us," added Garcia, "That is the key for our players to grow and compete better internationally, apart from playing often with our team abroad. And I repeat, this is not a fact of the result, because it was a good one. It is necessary to become closer to the top teams. IMG Reliance and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) must urgently plan pro leagues."

Final Standings

Men
  • Gold: South Korea
  • Silver: Iran
  • Bronze: Japan
Women
  • Gold: South Korea
  • Silver: China
  • Bronze: Japan

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