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Yao leads China's winning ways
By Yu Yilei (HK Edition)
Updated: 2004-07-12 07:23

Houston Rockets's standout centre Yao Ming notched 22 points to help China rout Croatia 92-55 last night at the last game of the Four-Nation Basketball Challenge in Beijing.

With the victory, China won the title with three wins as it defeated Canada and Brazil in previous two matches.

Yao Ming attempts a shoot. [Xinhua]

Coming back from a toe injury, Yao played 20 minutes with high scoring efficiency, shooting 5-7 from the field and 12-15 from the free throw. Apart from his drizzling individual shows including a dunk in the third quarter which drew deafening cheers from local fans, Yao displayed smooth work with teammates with some entertaining passes to Yi Jianlian, a promising centre who is expected to follow in Yao's footsteps.

China also maintained a successful defence alongside fierce attacks led by Yao, leaving the Croatians to a poor 34 shooting percentage from the field.

"This is probably the best game that we have played," said an elated Chinese head coach Del Harris. "I like the way that we competed and it's good for us to play against physical teams like Croatia and Brazil.

"It's a good experience to get to know those kind of boxing matches in the basketball world."

Against the towering Chinese, the inexperienced Croatians played a tough physical game, sparking several quarrels.

But China held its own end, however, and jumped to a quick lead 26-16 in the first quarter and then 42-29 after the half.

China totally dominated the third with its tight zone defence which allowed Croatians to score a mere eight points.

However, Yao fueled China to a scoring tide and finished third with a 30-point lead.

"I thought the zone defence tonight was outstanding," said Harris. "I did not expect the zone defence to grab the scene because it was not as active as it needed in the first two games."

Harris said the team which just finished a training camp in Dallas before the tournament, has more room for improvement before the Athens Olympics next month.

"Yao is getting in better condition physically and other players will get better play with Yao and I think these points would be in our favour (in the remaining days before Olympic Games)."

The four teams will soon travel to Urumqi in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to play the second leg of the tournament.

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