Day 5 Men: CHN 67 - SCG 66
China, YAO knock out world champs
ATHENS - The totally unpredictable Olympic Mens Basketball Tournament sprung its biggest surprise yet when YAO Ming and China knocked two-time defending world champion Serbia and Montenegro from the competition with a come-from-behind 67-66 victory in their fifth and last preliminary game.
YAO (see photo) calmly buried four free throws in the closing two minutes, while his teammate DU Feng sank two with 3.2 seconds left to stun the 1998 and 2002 world champs.
With the victory, China finished 2-3 and fourth in Group A, and therefore will face Group B winner Lithuania in the quarterfinals on Thursday 26 August at a new venue, Olympic Indoor Hall. Serbia and Montenegro (1-4) finishes sixth and last in the group and must play Angola on Tuesday to decide 11th or 12th place.
Chinas defense, anchored by YAO, starred as Serbia and Montenegro failed to score on anything but three-pointers in the last quarter. China played a zone late in the game that repeatedly left Serbia and Montenegro little or no time to shoot. Before DUs decisive free throws, Dejan BODIROGA tried a go-ahead three-pointer over YAO with the shot clock expiring, but it rattled out.
In their only other previous Olympic match-up, in the Atlanta 1996 quarterfinals, Serbia and Montenegro (then Yugoslavia) won by 67 points, 128-61.
This time, despite 10-point deficits early in each of the first three quarters, China found ways to stay in the game.
YAO inspired China throughout, playing all 40 minutes to score 27 points, capture 13 rebounds, dish a couple sweet assists and foul out two opposing centers. LI Nan was his partner in the first half, hitting all four three-pointers among his 14 total points. In the second, DU came up with big plays to finish with 12 points.
Predrag DROBNJAK, whose fifth foul put YAO on the foul line for go-ahead free throws with 28 seconds left, led Serbia and Montenegro with 17 points. Milos VUJANIC reached 12 with a 3-pointer on the final buzzer that was rendered unimportant when DU made both his free throws moments earlier.
In the first quarter, between six lead changes and two ties, LI s pair of 3-point shots kept China in the game until YAO started seeing the ball. His first basket put China ahead 10-9, but it was followed by the first triple from VUJANIC. When VUJANIC popped another three, Serbia and Montenegro lead 21-16 after 10 minutes.
VUJANICs third 3-pointer to start the second quarter plus consecutive inside baskets by Nenad KRSTIC boosted the advantage to 29-19. But then KRSTIC got his fourth foul, and China started to come back behind LIs third and fourth 3-pointers. YAO fed MO Ke for an open dunk that cut the difference to 31-29, but Serbia and Montenegro hung onto a 34-31 edge at halftime.
Two inside shots by DROBNJAK helped reestablished Serbia and Montenegros 10-point lead at 41-31 early in the third quarter. Again, China resurged. YAO and DU combined on 14 points to tie 47-47, then Feng hit the free throws for Chinas first lead of the half, although Serbia and Montenegro went ahead 54-51 by the 30-minute mark.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Vlado SCEPANOVIC seemed to put the world champs in control at 60-53 with 7:06 to play. Instead, Chinas defense took over. Serbia and Montenegro waited almost four minutes for another shot to fall, a DROBNJAK three, then until the buzzer for another. In between, China and YAO scored 14 points, including eight perfect free throws, to reach their dream, the quarterfinals.
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens
Ke MO, forward (CHN)
On the game:
"We are very happy about the result, which gave us our berth to the quarter-finals. We didn't play well in defense so far in this tournament, and we said before the game that first of all everybody has to give everything defensively. In offense we tried to play with YAO who played an excellent game and carried us until the end. These three final minutes, when we fought back and we took the lead are our best memories so far in the Games. I wish we can make it also to semi-finals."
|Press conference quotes:|
LI Nan, Forward, Team Captain (CHN)
"I am deeply moved after what we achieved today. In my career, it is the second time that China reaches the final eight in a world competition. We have a great coach. We have a relatively young team, but we have made great progress. What happened today is a miracle, and I don't know how to express my feelings. The coach told us never to give up, and we all understood this was our last chance. We seized it and we won."
LIU Wei, Guard (CHN)
"Many thanks to coach HARRIS, he made a big effort with us despite his age (giggles). He's done everything for us. The Olympic Games are a stage for miracles. I hope this will lead our team to play even better from now on. We played as a tight fist. People used to say that we break down as a team during stress periods. Now we have given a brand new image. I hope this is not the end of the road but the beginning of a new one."
YAO Ming, Center (CHN)
"It's a day of great joy. In 1996, when I saw the Chinese team qualify for the quarterfinals (in Atlanta), I was impressed. It was a great deed, and we did the same. Coach gave us a lesson of life. His never give up' motto was the watchword for us. This win is a treasure for the future generation of Chinese Basketball players. It was the fruit of our labours. We just didn't want to pack and go that early."
Zelimir OBRADOVIC, Head Coach (SCG)
"Congratulations to China for their win and good game. It was a big shock for us, and the hardest moment of my career. We wanted very much to win, and we were leading throughout the game. In the last quarter we let our opponents come back, something that had happened to us before in this tournament. We lost again due to our very bad finish."
Del HARRIS, Head Coach (CHN)
On the game:
"I respect coach OBRADOVIC's feelings. In my many years as a coach, there have been sad moments and also good ones. I have coached for forty years and over fifty teams, but I have never coached a group I had more respect for, for their effort and for the kind of human beings they are, than this group of young men. And I think this is the best win I've ever had. Technically, we did very well in staying mentally alert in defense. And we did an excellent job in staying with their best shooters, like (Dejan) BODIROGA, (Vladimir) RADMANOVIC, or (Igor) RAKOCEVIC."
On whether having a Lithuanian coach in his staff can help China beat Lithuania in the quarterfinals:
"Sure a Lithuanian coach can help us win, if he can shoot and rebound Jonas (KAZLAUSKAS) is a great coach, and has been and will be a great help to me, whether we play Lithuania or anybody else."
On Chinese Basketball:
"The next step is to enable the national team to play more games against top international competition. Everybody else does it. Playing them every two years is not enough. We have to find a way to play against somebody other than ourselves. And this will be hard because of the geography."
Source: Athens news service