The top women's basketball team in the continent gave opponents another warning shot that their future is set to be as dominant as their present. For the second consecutive time - and the third time in four competitions - China's youth women emerged as champions by securing the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in Medan (Indonesia) on Sunday, August 9. In the 12-team tournament held from August 2-9, China defeated Japan to secure the title in a rematch of 2013 final.
In the tournament's four-event history since 2009, Japan has been to the final all four times, but unfortunately, emerged as victors only once back in 2011. For the second-consecutive time, the final at the Angkasapura Lanud Hall in Medan pitted Asian powerhouses China and Japan against each other. Japan were looking to avenge not only their 2013 final loss to China but also a big loss in the preliminary stage of the 2015 tournament.
On Sunday, Japan started the game off well, trailing by just one point in the first quarter and showing intentions of being able to pull off the victory against the favoured Chinese. But China - as they have been all tournament - were unstoppable once the final nerves settled down. On the back of a mammoth performance by Yueru Li (31 points, 18 rebounds), China took the edge before halftime, and even though Japan stayed competitive till the end of the third quarter, a flurry in the final period decided the score in China's favour. Starting off the fourth quarter with a 69-61 lead, China outscored Japan 26-11 in the final 12 minutes to win the game 95-72. Jiaqi Wang added 27 for China and Linge Zhang added 19. Izumi Abe scored 31 for Japan in a losing effort.
The semi-final stage had pitted the familiar 'Big Four' of Asian Women's basketball against each other. Champions China brushed off a meek challenge by Chinese Taipei 89-46 led by Yueru Li (20). The later semi-final was a closer affair, as Japan had to come from behind to defeat Korea 64-55 to book a place for themselves in the final. Korea's So Hoo Lee was the game's leading scorer with 18.
India - as they have done each time in the tournament - failed to make it to the semi-final stage despite being in Level I. But this year's performance was especially dismal; India's 12-girl squad - led by Head Coach Abhay Chavan - lost all their games by a large margin and went winless, only to the relegated to Level II for the first time.
Proceedings got even more dismal the next day as India's offence fell apart in a 74-point loss to Japan. Japan held India to just 14 points after halftime to win the game 113-39. Itsuki Hashiguchi and Rina Kajiwara led Japan with 16 points each.
India faced formidable foes China in Game 3, but despite some baby steps in improvement, still lost by a wide margin and only posted 32 points on the board. Yu Luo (17) and Shan Li (16) did most of the scoring damage for China. None of the Indian players cracked double digits.
India's last preliminary round game was again a big loss, 92-48, to Chinese Taipei. Chinese Taipei opened the game with a 32-12 first quarter run and kept a hold on proceedings until the final buzzer. Meng-Hsin Chen of Chinese Taipei scored a game-high 19 points.
India had finished sixth in the preliminary round after five losses, and their final game at Medan was a qualifying game against the top team of Level II, Hong Kong. Although India remained within reach until halftime, Hong Kong opened up a double digit lead in the third quarter and eventually stretched their lead to a blowout win, 66-44. Nga Man Christie Wong scored 18 for Hong Kong while India's Rutaja Pawar had 19 to post the biggest individual score by any Indian at the championship.
India's dismal performance could be blamed to a lack of practice time, which is what Coach Chavan harped about mid-way into the tournament. “I had only 40 days to prepare my team," he told FIBA, "It’s not enough to prepare for such an event." Additionally, unlike other teams, India didn't get practice games required to find their groove together before the main event.
Sushantika Chhakravortty was India's leading scorer at the tournament, scoring 9.7 points per game. Another bright spark for the team was point guard Nishanthi Masilamani, who dished 3.7 assists per game, fourth best of all players at the tournament.
Two years from now, India's youth women will start at the lower Level II level. Because the opponents will be easier, they may return home with a better-looking record, but it will not be worth as much as getting a chance to play against the top teams in Level I and holding the potential to make it to the semi-final stage. For a return to play against the top dogs in 2019, now India has to ensure Level I qualification in 2017.