July 3, 2023
BEIJING – Han Xu, Li Meng star in final to dethrone Japan
After a 12-year wait, the Chinese women’s basketball team stood on the highest podium at the FIBA Women’s Basketball Asia Cup once again, beating defending champion Japan 73-71 in a thrilling final in Sydney on Sunday.
In a roller-coaster decider, the teams were tied 17-all at the end of the first quarter. Team China only managed nine points in the second period to give fans a major scare.
However, the Chinese aces bounced back after halftime, displaying remarkable resilience as Han Xu and Li Meng made crucial shots in a nail-biting finale to secure the win.
“The result almost feels surreal to me. Before the Asia Cup, it was not something we expected. We experienced ups and downs throughout the tournament, but no one ever gave up — even just a little bit. And we really focused on improving on both ends of the floor,” said head coach Zheng Wei.
“The Asia Cup has been out of our grasp for over 12 years, and I’m thrilled that we finally did it. The Chinese women’s basketball team has a great and proud tradition, and we need to pass it on.”
China’s brightest star was Han, who was deservedly crowned MVP of the competition. She scored 26 points and collected 10 rebounds in the final, and signed off with an impressive average of 22 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
Han was also named on the tournament’s All-Star Five selection. She was joined on that elite lineup by teammate Li Meng, who scored 17 points in the final and averaged 14.4 points, 4.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds throughout the campaign Down Under.
“It’s a victory after 12 years of hard work. Today, together with my wonderful teammates, we returned to the top of Asian basketball. I think everyone in the team did their very best,” said star center Han, who plays in the WNBA with the New York Liberty.
“The MVP award means a lot to me. I need to credit it on the trust and help of every single one of my teammates, coaches and staff of the team. I also want to thank all the spectators who cheered for us in the stands, and all those who have been supporting us.
“Their support gave me the courage to bravely face all my challenges. I’m never a perfect player, but I never stop chasing perfection on my basketball journey. I believe I can improve and the Chinese women’s basketball squad will also continue to improve.”
The same excitement was shared by Li Meng, dubbed “Li-Bron” by fans in reference to her idol LeBron James.
“It took 12 years for us to return to the summit of Asian hoops. All our sweat and hard work paid off,” said Li Meng, who plays for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
“There’s still a long journey ahead for this team and more challenges await us. We need to maintain our belief and keep fighting. I’m also really happy to be named on the All-Star Five. It’s a huge confidence boost for my career. I will try even harder, so that I can live up to all of your expectations.”
Wang Siyu also proved to be a clutch performer for Team China, finishing with 17 points in the final to cap a highly impressive tournament for the 27-year-old.
“Li Meng, Han Xu and Wang Siyu are all world-class stars now. And to win at any major global tournament, a team needs stars like them. Even with the absence of some core players, Team China still managed to defeat Japan and reclaim the Asia Cup after 12 years. These Chinese girls have achieved big!” basketball commentator Yang Yi wrote on social media.
The victory thrilled Chinese fans online, with the final attracting huge media attention and the hashtag “Team China wins Asia Cup “racking up an incredible 150 million views on Weibo just an hour after the triumph.
Fans hailed the feat as a victory against the odds, given the absence of several core players — in particular the injured Li Yueru.
With Han and Li Meng interrupting their club careers in the United States for the tournament, there was significant pressure on the WNBA duo — and they both delivered for their country.
Opening with routine wins over Lebanon and New Zealand, Team China faced its first tough test at the Asia Cup when it dug deep to see off South Korea in overtime.
In Saturday’s semifinal, Team China overcame host Australia 74-60 to earn a final showdown against defending champion Japan.
“From the very beginning of the Asia Cup, Team China faced numerous setbacks and challenges, including the absence of core players and limited preparation time to gel the team. Indeed, the squad was only fully assembled just a week before the tournament tipped off,” read a commentary by thepaper.cn.
“The Japanese squad represented a very tough opponent, and there was possibly an additional mental block to overcome too. For the past decade, Team China and Japan have been dueling on the international stage. In most of their games, there were only a few points separating the teams at the final buzzer. In a way, the Asia Cup has witnessed the development of Team China and the Japanese squad.”