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Women's basketball powerhouses aspire to make a deep run in Tokyo 2020

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-07-22 09:25
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Xu Limin (right). [Photo/Xinhua]

TOKYO - China's national women's basketball team will kick off their Olympic campaign against Puerto Rico on July 27, with Australia and Belgium also featuring in Group C.

"First we need to do well against Puerto Rico," head coach Xu Limin said.

With the 12-team competition consisting of three groups, the top two sides from each group and the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarterfinals.

"Australia, the runners-up in the world, is our strongest opponent. Our main rivals are Puerto Rico and Belgium. We must beat Puerto Rico in the group opener," Xu added.

China's frontline currently looks like one of the deepest rotations in the competition with Li Yueru, Han Xu, Shao Ting and Li Meng. How far China can go perhaps relies more on how the backcourt rotation will develop. A lot of pressure will fall on the shoulders of 21-year-old guard Li Yuan, who had an impressive debut at the senior level at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in 2018, and then played well as China went unbeaten in Belgrade at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments last year.

China won all three qualifying matches in Belgrade in February last year, but Xu is well aware of the challenges looming at the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. "As there have been few chances to play matches for months, we have to solve problems of fitness, technique and depth of talent through training," Xu added.

Compared with Puerto Rico, Belgium is a tougher opponent to deal with if China wants to break through the Group C. Emma Meesseman, the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP, remains the leader for Belgium, which finished in the fourth place in the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. Belgium are at their collective best when they move the ball effectively and find open shooters.

The absence of the four-time WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage is a heavy blow to the Australian team, but they are still regarded as the most dominant team in Group C. Australia is loaded with WNBA talents like Storm center Ezi Magbegor, Liberty forward Rebecca Allen, Mystics guard Leilani Mitchell, Mercury forward Alanna Smith Mercury and Storm wing Stephanie Talbot.

The Opals won three silvers and two bronzes from 1996 to 2012 but finishing the fifth place at Rio 2016, which broke a streak of five consecutive Olympic Games with a medal. The Australians are looking forward to return to the podium as they took home the silver at the 2018 World Cup in Spain.

The star-laden USA team is eyeing their seventh straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. They have enjoyed a 66-3 record in Olympic play (no Olympic losses since 1992, no losses in any tournament since 2006), and a record six consecutive titles. In 2016 Rio Olympics, the U.S. team scored 102.1 points per game, surrendering just 64.9 points per game to its opponents.

The team features a number of veterans like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who will both be looking to claim their fifth straight gold. Sylvia Fowles is making her fourth Olympic appearance. They have a good balance of experience and youth by equipping with six newcomers, including reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson and two-time All-Star Napheesa Collier.

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