It was a tournament that repeated histories. For the third consecutive time, a major women's FIBA Asia tournament was held in Bengaluru, India. For the fifth straight time, China's U18 team raced to grab the the gold medals. And for the third time in various women's FIBA Asia events, India - starting in Division B - played a perfect tournament to win promotion to Division A.
No matter the location, the team in-charge of proceedings was yet again China. China won their fifth consecutive FIBA Asia U18 Women's title win a win over their rivals Japan in the final on Saturday, 89-76. After a tight first half where both teams were tied at 38-each, China opened the third period with a 24-12 run that proved to be the difference. They held on to their lead in a high-scoring fourth to secure the victory. Rising Chinese basketball star Yuan Li scored 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in the final, while Zhuo Ya Fang added 17. Chinatsu Umeki (20) and Layla Takehara (18) led the way for Japan in the loss.
Oceania's finest Australia won the third-place game on Saturday against Korea to secure the bronze medal. After leading just 54-49 at the end of the third quarter, Australia finished in style to run away with a 75-58 triumph. Duke University's Miela Goodchild (21) and rising star Nnenna Agnes Emma-Nnopu (17) led the way for Australia. Korea were led with 17-points a piece by Jihyun Park and Haeran Lee.
Like they did in the previous two age division events in Bengaluru, hosts India entered this tournament in Division B. Once again, the man at the helm of the squad was Zoran Visic, the Serbian coach who has been managing India's women's basketball for the past few years at all levels. Despite home familiarity, however, India had reason for caution, missing several of their top players and fielding a captain - Pushpa Senthil Kumar - who was injured in the run-up to the tournament.
India were in Group A of Division B, along with Iran, Guam, and Singapore, and once the tournament got underway, they showed their class to devastate all opponents.
Once they got the first-game jitters out of the way, India were ruthless in their next contest, against the inexperienced Guam. Srishti Suren had 19 points and 9 rebounds to lead six players in double-digits for India in the 107-42 victory.
It was more of the same in India's final group stage game against Singapore. India started off with a 20-3 first quarter run that immediately deflated their opponents. Led by Gulabsha Ali's 21 off the bench, India ran away to a 79-49 win to top their group.
India faced a familiar foe - Kazakhstan - in the final, in what was supposed to be a closer matchup. But right from the start, Visic's squad ensured that they wouldn't allow any space for mistakes. India led 32-18 after the first half and pushed the lead to 54-30 after three quarters. The final score read 68-45 as India celebrated their Division B victory. Bopaiah, who definitely emerged as the team's knockout stage MVP, finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds in the victory.
India finished the tournament a perfect 5-0, winning each game with an average margin of 34.2 points. The victory ensured that India will be promoted to Division A when the next iteration of this tournament comes around in two more years.
This victory again highlighted the strange space occupied by India's Women's basketball: too good for Division B; too terrible for Division A. Hopefully, all three promoted squads (Seniors, U16, U18) can find Division A success in the next tournaments.
FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women - Final Standings
- 1. China
- 2. Japan
- 3. Australia
- 4. Korea