CHENNAI (23rd FIBA Asia Women Championship) - India and Lebanon scored dominating victories in the Level I play-offs on Wednesday.
India gave their tallest player Harjeet Kaur the longest game-time in the Championship and defeated Malaysia 90-74 to retain their place in Level I.
Seasoned campaigner Nisrin Dandan’s solid second quarter display had earlier steered Lebanon towards a comfortable 83-58 win over Thailand, and the promotion to play in Level I in the next edition.
Malaysia, who were relegated to Level II after losing to India in the play-off in the last edition, will have to wait for another two years to take a shot regaining their position in Level I.
And Thailand will play the Level II for the first time after 1995.
Lebanon took their time to settle down, but grew in strength and confidence as the game progressed.
Dandan, the only member of the Lebanese women’s team when they last played in the FIBA Asia Women Championship in 2001 in the Thai capital, sparked the Lebanese march.
The 32-year-old Antranik guard scored nine of her game’s 15 points in the second quarter and effected one steal as Lebanon found the “missing link” in their offense chain.
“The girls had put themselves under tremendous pressure about this game and very nervous at the start. Nisrin’s presence and experience helped us calm the nerves,” said Lebanon coach Elie Nasr.
“The last time I was a part of the team things didn’t really end happy. But this time around we had a great team. And if my contribution was to going to count, it had to be in this game,” Dandan said.
Chada Nasr and Chantelle Anderson took over in the second half and Lebanon’s control on the proceedings and the scoreboard increased with every move.
American Anderson poured in 15 of her game-high 24 points and completed another double-double – also grabbing 13 rebounds.
Chada Nasr who effected eight of her nine assists for the game in the first half stepped up her scoring and returned 23 points – 16 of them in the second half.
“This is what we came for,” Chada Nasr said.
“But this is only the beginning. We hope the interest for women’s basketball in Lebanon grows,” she added.
“It’s like this,” said Elie Nasr.
“The federation invested in this team and gave us an opportunity to play here. We are grateful for that, but more importantly we have given them enough reasons to invest more in Lebanese women’s basketball,” the coach added.
Charothai Sukomwong was the highest scorer for Thailand with 21 points.
India owed their success to a change in their game-plan coming to age of Harjeet Kaur.
Harjeet had averaged 13 minutes per game in India’s five previous outings, but fielded her for 30:51 today.
And the 190-cm forward justified the faith reposed in her by returning a game-high 31 points, much higher than the 2.8PPG she carried into the game.
The 21-year-old also collected 16 rebounds – another game-high – again much higher than the 3RPG she had earlier.
Geethu Anna Jose’s 21 points and 11 rebounds thus found some unprecedented support.
“It was a part of our game plan to use our height advantage,” said India coach JP Singh about using Harjeet for the long period of time.
“Our coach told us this morning ‘we have one bullet left. We can either use it well or die in the battle.’ Just that things worked well for us,” said Harjeet.
“I think motivation was the key factor for us today,” said JP Singh.
“True we had lost all the games in Level I, but if we had lost today, we would have had to wait for another four years to play in the top level. And I think all the girls were aware of that,” he added.
Malaysia were caught by surprise by Harjeet’s extended presence on the court, but more importantly their three-pointer percentage suffered.
“We didn’t expect Harjeet to play that long at all. We had made our plans for Geethu and Kiranjeet Kaur. But this was a surprise,” Malaysia coach Tan See Wah said.
“In a way we have helped India realize Harjeet’s potential,” he chuckled.
Goh Beng Fong was the highest scorer for Malaysia with 15 points and Pee Yann Yann contributed 14.