In a rematch of the final from two years ago, China and Japan faced each other – in the foreground of hostile political relations – in the final of the 21st FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Women in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, on October 6th. Like last time, China once again proved to be the slightly stronger side and held the edge for a 66-60 victory. This was China’s second consecutive win at the championship and an unprecedented 13th overall!
Despite being marked as favourites, this was no cakewalk for the East Asian giants. Japan led by 8 points at halftime and looked poised to run away with the game. But a second half comeback – led by Liwei Yang (20 points) – brought China back into the game and their tough defense held Japan at bay.
Earlier on Saturday, Korea turned the screws on Chinese Taipei in the fourth quarter to win the Bronze Medal game 61-42. Seul Ku had 20 points and 12 rebounds for Korea.
In the Semi-Final stage, China defeated Korea 72-46, while Japan relied on an offensive barrage led by Saori Miyazaki (16) and Miyuki Kawamura (16) to beat Chinese Taipei 113-55.
Relegated to Level II of the tournament since 2008, India played a masterful tournament to all of their games, go 5-0 in the course of the tournament, and win their spot back up to Level I for the next chapter of this championship in 2014. India’s young girls made a strong impression in blowing past the weaker teams and giving the higher ranked sides a glimpse of their talent in store for the future.
The tournament tipped off on September 29th: India’s level II opponents were Singapore, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka. Uzbekistan could not participate in the championship and didn’t end up playing any games.
India started the championship with a bang, blowing past hapless Singapore for a 40 point victory. India got double-doubles from three of their best players – Jeena PS (28 points 11 rebounds), Rajapriyadharshini Rajaganapathi (20 points 10 rebounds) and Shireen Limaye (12 points 13 rebounds) as they held a double digit lead at halftime and stretched it to a 93-53 victory by the game’s end.
Game 2 for India was against the more physically imposing Kazakhstan side that made things slightly tougher for the Indian girls. India led by just five points at halftime, but found their footing by the fourth quarter and made the final score of 82-65 look relatively comfortable. Sharanjeet Kaur led India with 22 points while Jeena PS had a dominating performance in the post with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
India’s closest Preliminary Round game was against Hong Kong. India’s Head Coach Harjinder Singh Simak tried a change of tactic, playing the inexperienced but gigantic Poonam Chaturvedi (6 foot 8 inches) all 40 minutes. Chaturvedi (17) the tallest women’s basketball player in India had a game high 32 points and 17 rebounds. Sharanjeet Kaur had a triple double (16 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds) and Jeena PS grabbed 15 boards of her own. 30 points by Hong Kong’s tournament leading scorer Ka Yee Wong weren’t enough to prevent a 76-67 win for India.
India’s game against Uzbekistan was cancelled, and India was handed a 20-0 walkover victory.
The final Preliminary Round game for India was against southern neighbours Sri Lanka. Already assured of a Level I qualification game, India needed a win to seal top place in the group. Sri Lanka was offered no respite: India started on fire, and then became devastatingly dominant as the game progressed. When the dust settled, India had won the game by 87 points. Five Indian players scored in double digits, led by the masterful Jeena PS (24 points 15 rebounds). The final score was 114-27 in favour of the Indian girls and the reward was a first place finish in Level II.
India earned a qualification game against the team that finished bottom in Level I – the hosts Malaysia – and it turned out to be one of the games of the tournament. These two evenly matched sides have had several close battles in the past, and this one was no exception. Although India had control of most of the game and led by 8 points before the start of the final period, they allowed Malaysia to make a spirited comeback in the fourth quarter. In the last 45 seconds, a turnover from India gave Malaysia’s Magdelene Low an easy bucket which put the hosts up 59-58. But India bounced back on the very last possession, as Sharanjeet Kaur scored the game’s last two points with 30 seconds left to give India a 60-59 lead, which they kept a hold off until the clock expired. India’s best player was again Jeena PS, who led the side with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Shi Yeng Ng (20) and Michelle Lee (17) were the scoring leaders for Malaysia.
It was a happy end to a successful tournament for India, where they won every game and saw some incredible breakout performances by their young stars. The biggest star of them all was of course Kerala’s Jeena PS. The youngster can be the second coming of India’s basketball great Geethu Anna Jose, as she comes from the same town and high-school where Jose first excelled. Jose has made a name for herself as the greatest ever player in Indian basketball history; Jeena’s young career has seen her take similar strides. In the last few years, Jeena has been dominating India’s under-16, under-18, and a few senior level tournaments. Her performance in Malaysia should bolster her career to a new level.
Jeena was the second-highest scorer in the entire tournament with 20.2 points per game and led the tournament in rebounds with 13.6 rebounds per game. India’s rebounders were dominant to say the least, as three players finished in top five of the tournament’s rebounding list. After Jeena, Rajaganapathi (9.8 rpg) finished at 3rd place and Maharashtra’s experienced baller Shireen Limaye (9.4) finished at 5th place. India did well in the assists department too, with Sharanjeet Kaur (6.0 apg) and Shireen Limaye (4.6 apg) finishing at second and third place in Asia.
Also, let’s not forget India’s secret weapon, Poonam Chaturvedi, who was played sparingly in the course of the tournament but made the coaches proud whenever she was given a chance. Chaturvedi is an imposing figure, but she is still relatively new to basketball despite her raw talent. She has improved drastically since her first appearance on the national scale at the Youth Nationals in Nagpur only a year ago, and it is expected that she will continue this rate of improvement in the next few years.
As India’s generation of current leaders in the national side get older – Geethu Anna Jose, Anitha Paul Durai, Prashanti Singh – there is a crowd of hungry and talented youngsters ready to take their place. Jeena, Sharanjeet Kaur, Limaye, and Chaturvedi will the faces of Indian women’s basketball in the future. And they will be good enough to significantly improve India’s standing in the Asian hoops stage when they get there!
Final Standings at the 21st U18 FIBA Asia Championship for Women
4. Chinese Taipei