November 4, 2018

China win 5th consecutive FIBA Asia U18 Women's title in Bengaluru; Undefeated India win Division B!

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.

The 2018 FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women was held in Bengaluru, India, from October 28 - November 3, with games held at the city's Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the Koramangala Indoor Stadium. 16 of the top teams in the Asia and Oceania took part, divided into higher (Division A) and lower (Division B) sections. This was the third consecutive FIBA Asia Women's tournament to be held in Bengaluru, after last year's FIBA Asia Women's Cup and FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women.

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.

The top four teams - China, Japan, Australia, and Korea - qualified for 2018 FIBA U19 Women's World Cup.

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.

India's first game was probably their most nervous affair, against Iran. Leading 46-38 before the beginning of the final quarter, India made several costly errors and allowed Iran to come all the way back. Fortunately, a couple of smart plays in the last few minutes helped India hold their nerve and survive for a 73-65 win. Sreekala Rani led India with 19 while Iran's best player was Fatemeh Aghazadegan Ghazvini, who scored a game-high 22 points.

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.

In the Division B semi-final, India were matched up against Group B runners-up Hong Kong. Once again, India looked confident, and this time, used a defensively throttling third quarter run (17-2) to shut down their opponents. Harshitha Kelttira Bopaiah was immense with 18 points and 16 rebounds to help India win, 83-38.

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.

India and Visic have a lot to be proud of after this tournament, particularly the impressive performances by the Bopaiah, who led the team in both scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounds (11.2 rpg). Point guard Dharshani Thirunavukkarasu showed maturity beyond her years in shepherding the squad and averaging 10.8 points and 4 assists per game. Other consistent performers for the team included Srishti Suren and Ishwarya Janardhanan, who led the squad in minutes played and assists (6.0 apg).

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

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