South Korean men shock China in a thrilling final

A. VINOD

THERE were upsets in the basketball event of the Asian Games. The surprise win of the host South Korea over China marked the end of over two decades of Chinese domination in men's basketball.

Kim Joo Sung (right), the top-scorer for South Korea, goes for the basket, beating Yao Ming of China in the final. The Koreans caused a major upset by beating the reigning champion China for the gold.-AFP

It was a real stunner and the South Koreans deserve every bit of it. The Chinese looked on course to their record sixth straight title, enjoying a 13-point lead at the start of the last quarter. But the home team, with a gritty performance, did neutralise this huge lead and pushed the encounter into extra-time, before winning at 102-100. The hero of South Korea was Moon Kyung-Eun.

Prior to the thriller, at the Sajik Gymnasium courts, there was no stopping the China as it mowed down its opponents, one after the other, in the initial stages of the three-tier tournament. It was easy pickings for the champion side in the preliminary league as it defeated its Group A rivals Kuwait (78-54) and Hong Kong (112-38) enroute to the quarterfinal league. Here again, there was no stopping the Chinese as they swamped Chinese Taipei (113-50), Japan (104-59) and the Philippines (92-51) before making short work of Kazakhstan (113-62) in the knock-out semifinal.

South Korea too had it easy in the preliminary league after being pitted against Japan and Mongolia in Group B. The home side won against Mongolians (145-65) and the Japanese (79-62) and thereafter recorded easy wins against North Korea (101-85), Hong Kong (101-58) and Kazakhstan (114-98) before surviving a close call against the Philippines (69-68) in the semifinals. Perhaps, it was this struggle against the Filipinos which prepared the South Koreans for their tryst with destiny.

Yet, it looked as if the Chinese were in for another easy title triumph as they cruised to a 49-36 lead at the end of the first-half with Yao Ming and Liu Yudong once again going great guns. The Chinese were ahead again in the third quarter and were up 90-83 before the determined South Koreans fought back into the match. Just a little over 25 seconds remaining for the final whistle, when South Koreans toppled the Chinese.

China, which won the gold in the women's section.-AFP

It was Kim Joo-Sung, the top-scorer with 21 points, who signalled the Korean fightback with a jump shot basket. The Chinese then missed a simple ball position and taking full advantage of that, Moon hit a three-pointer with less than 18 seconds left. The champion side could still have won had it held on to the ball in the remaining time, but the Koreans supported by the crowd, regained possession through Hyun Joo-Yup whose twisted lay-up brought the home team on level terms with the Chinese at 90-90. Then just 4.7 seconds remained for the whistle.

Seo Jang Hoon's three-pointer 18 seconds into the extra-time gave the Koreans a 93-90 lead. And then, Moon was to extend it further with a beauty of a jump shot before Liu Yudong (who ended as the second top-scorer with 22 points behind Yao Ming with 23) narrowed the lead with two free throws.

Hu Weidong sank a good three-pointer and brought China back into reckoning (100-101) with just 21 second remaining. However, the Chinese were forced to foul and this gave Moon the opportunity to steer a deserving win for the Koreans. He could sink only one of the two free throws, but with only three seconds remaining, it was all over for the Chinese.

Kazakhstan took the bronze with a narrow 68-66 win over the Philippines, the third place winner at Bangkok in 1998. Vitaliy Strebkov was the leading scorer for the winner with 30 points, while Jeffrey Cariaso and Pauliasi Taulava scored 18 and 15 points for the loser.

China, however, had the consolation of winning the women's title, downing South Korea 80-76 in what turned out to be another tense final. The Koreans were in the lead by a good seven points in the last quarter, before the Chinese, who had led 42-35 at half-time, turned the tables on the home side.

Compared to 12 teams which took the field in the men's section, the competitors in the women's event were only half. This forced the organisers to go for the round-robin league with play-offs rather than the planned league-cum-knockout format.

And again, it looked as if China was in for a stroll as it steamrollered its way past Uzbekistan (104-58), Japan (100-87), Malaysia (108-53), South Korea (82-71) and Chinese Taipei (110-72), enroute to the play-off final, with a clean slate. The Koreans, who lost against China, emerged as title contenders finishing second with wins over Chinese Taipei (115-85), Malaysia (93-45), Japan (93-72) and Uzbekistan (123-63).

China's Sui Feifei sits on the court even as she looks for her team-mates to pass the ball during the match against Japan. The Chinese played a vital role in the final against South Korea as well.-AP

However, having played second fiddle to its rivals till the start of the last quarter, the home team led by Jung Sun-Min (who eventually finished with 29 points including a 11-from free-throws) rallied to gain a seven point lead (74-67) with four minutes and 35 seconds remaining.

But the Chinese managed to halt the late surge of the Koreans with Sui Feifei and Chen Luyun playing vital roles. It was again Sui's conversion of two free-throws which helped China to equalise the scores at 76-all with just one minute and 45 seconds left for the final whistle. After the scores were even, China was unstopped despite the best efforts of the South Koreans. The star behind China's win was Chen Luyun.

Chinese Taipei rubbed further salt to the defending champion Japan's wounds by taking the bronze 86-79 in a one-sided match. The Taipei side had also downed the Japanese (103-78) in the league phase, for its first win in 12 years over the Bangkok gold-medallist. Chiang Feng Chun led the scoring with 25 points ahead of Cheng Hui Yun who scored 21. Hamaguchi Norika with 20 points was the top-scorer for Japan.

But more than Japan's failure to figure in the medal-bracket in Busan, it was China's loss in the men's event against South Korean that was shocking.