China's women's basketball team gets one step closer to gold

By Sun Xiaochen | | Updated: 2022-09-30 19:38
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Steph Talbot (L) of Australia dribbles under the defense of Wang Siyu of China during the semifinal match at Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 in Sydney, Australia, Sept 30, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

With her players celebrating wildly in a packed stadium dotted with flying red flags and Chinese slogans, head coach Zheng Wei enjoyed a real blast from the past on Friday at Sydney's SuperDome.

After guiding China to a 61-59 close defeat over the host-country, Australia, Zheng led the Chinese squad to the final of FIBA Women's World Cup, formerly the world championships, for the second time in history after reaching the gold-medal game at the marquee tournament the first time 28 years ago at the 1994 worlds.

China's star center Han Xu dominated in the paint by contributing game-high 19 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks off the bench to go with 18 points from Chinese captain Yan Liwei and 14 points from point guard Wang Siyu to help China outlast the host.

Team China's collective efforts on both ends of the floor made up for the loss of the squad's leading scorer Li Meng, who was sidelined on Friday due to conditioning issues, and proved a key to victory in the fiercely battled game.

As a player on the 1994 silver-winning squad, coach Zheng couldn't hold back her emotion when the final whistle blew to the thunderous cheer of Chinese fans in the stadium, where China will challenge the defending champion United States in the final less than 24 hours later on China's National Day holiday.

"We lost our biggest weapon, yet we refused to surrender. We did it even better with collective effort and team play. This is how we play and how we prevail. This is the identity of this young Chinese team," Zheng said after the game.

"Even playing in Sydney, we feel like we are playing on our home court with so many local Chinese coming up and supporting us relentlessly".

"The city has been a happy hunting ground for Team China. The fans gave us a lot of energy and now we are ready to give all we have to challenge Team USA to the best of our abilities".

Once a top team in the women's game worldwide, Team China, who also won silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has struggled in recent years on the international level due to the retirement of veterans.

Bolstered by the rise of the next-gen talent, such as Han, another towering center, Li Yueru and Li Meng, Team China launched a new beginning with a sixth-place finish at the last World Cup in 2018 followed by a fifth-place performance at last year's Tokyo Games.

The return to the Cup tournament's final showdown has provided yet another golden opportunity for her young team to mature to reestablish world-class prowess and confidence, said Zheng.

"We haven't reached the final of a major international tournament for so long. We finally have had the opportunity to test and prove ourselves at the highest level after years of trying," said Zheng.

"We've done a solid preparation so this is where we belong and where our team is supposed to shine".

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