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China crowned after hard-fought victory
( 2003-10-02 09:33) (China Daily)

The Chinese men's basketball team gave themselves and the motherland a memorable birthday gift last night by defeating South Korea 106-96 to capture their 13th title at the 22nd Sanjing Asian Men's Basketball Championships.

It was a long-awaited rematch between the Asian powerhouses after the hosts lost the trophy to the Koreans at the Busan Asian Games last year.

The victory also gave China the last ticket to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Yao Ming, the superstar centre from the NBA's Houston Rockets, nailed a game-high 30 points and 15 rebounds and was the only player who stayed on the court for the entire match. He was also named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and led the event in rebounds, slams, dunks and assists.

Sharpshooting veteran Li Nan contributed 26 points for China, while Fan Bin and Zhang Jinsong also scored in double-digits.

Chinese head coach Jiang Xingquan finally changed his starting lineup, inserting forward Du Feng and veteran Li Nan to replace Zhu Fangyu and Li Ke.

China built a comfortable 50-36 lead in the first half, but the feisty Koreans fought back with seven three-point buckets in the third quarter to narrow the gap to 72-64.

Korea's potent outside shooting continued in the fourth when they stormed back from an early 10-point deficit to make it 83-82 with five minutes remaining, but when the capacity crowd of 4,200 started to sing the national anthem, China caught fire.

Veteran Fan Bin notched 11 points in the final period to lift China to victory.

"Both sides had good preparations and we know each other very well,'' said Jiang Xingquan, China's 63-year-old head coach. "Our first-half game was good, but we defended poorly on their three-pointers.

"But all of our team had prepared for a tough game and they maintained a good rhythm when the game was tight.''

Korean head coach Chun Chang-jin said he has learned a lot from the sophisticated Jiang.

"China is a good team and Jiang has ample experience in the sport,'' he said. "But we, together with other Asian countries, will keep challenging China.''

Meanwhile, the third-place playoff between Qatar and Lebanon started in an unhappy mood as the game was delayed for about one hour because of a dispute over jersey colours. The negotiations failed and both squads played in the similar red uniforms.

Qatar got off to a quick lead, but Lebanon stayed close before finally losing 68-64.

In other action, Iran (fifth) beat Japan (sixth) 67-61 and Kazakhstan (seventh) edged India (eighth). The ninth to 16th places went to Syria, Jordan, Chinese Taipei, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Olympic dream

The result of the Asian Championships completed the final roster for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which in addition to China includes: hosts Greece; 2002 World Champions Serbia & Montenegro (former Yugoslavia); Angola from the Africa zone; the United States, Argentina and Puerto Rico from the Americas; Lithuania, Spain and Italy from Europe; and Australia and New Zealand from Oceania.

"The goal of the Chinese men's basketball team at the 2004 Olympic Games is to get into the final 10 and if possible, try to advance to the quarter-finals,'' said Hu Jiashi, deputy director of the CBA.

"In 2008, our team is set to elbow into the top six.''

The best achievement for the Chinese men's squad is the eighth place at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, led by Gong Luming, now the head coach of the national women's team.

"The Chinese team now is in their prime with NBA players Yao Ming and Mengke Bateer and promising young guns such as Xue Yuyang, Gong Songlin and Yi Jianlian. They have very good chance to achieve these goals,'' Hu said.

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