June 27, 2023
BEIJING – A confident Team China tips off its FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign bidding to end its 12-year title drought at the tournament.
World No 2 China is the favorite to lift the trophy at the continental competition, which culminates with the final on July 2.
There is an added incentive for the eight participating teams, with the top four finishers advancing to the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifying tournament.
Australia hosts the Asia Cup for the first time, and the event’s 30th edition comes hot on the heels of Sydney staging a memorable FIBA Women’s World Cup late last year.
Buoyed by young talent and feverish crowd support, China enjoyed a stellar run at the World Cup where it finished runner-up, equaling its best record at the tournament.
Dynamic forward Li Meng, who plays for the Washington Mystics in the WNBA, was a standout performer with an average of 16 points per game, and she will line up at the Asia Cup alongside 23-year-old Han Xu, who also enjoyed a strong World Cup campaign.
There is much anticipation among Chinese fans that their team can maintain that momentum at the Asia Cup, a tournament China has long dominated with 10 titles from 14 editions between 1986 and 2011.
But China has endured a barren run since then, repeatedly falling short, including at the 2021 event in Amman, Jordan, where it lost to Japan in a gripping final.
China will be without stars Huang Sijing and Li Yueru, while five straight defeats on the squad’s recent tour of Europe have provided cause for concern.
But China remains the team to beat in Group A, which also features New Zealand, Lebanon and record 12-time champion South Korea.
South Korea will likely provide China with the toughest test in the group stage as it seeks a first title since 2007. The Koreans will rely on their offensive firepower, especially from 3-point range where Kang Leeseul is prolific.
The 29-year-old was outstanding at last year’s World Cup with an average of 17.2 points, and shooting almost 40 percent from beyond the arc.
South Korea’s campaign will also be powered by center Park Ji-su, who has long been the heart and soul of the team.
Group B also features five-time defending champion Japan, who edged China 78-73 in a tense final two years ago.
Japan, the Tokyo Olympics silver medalist, has had a stranglehold on the Asia Cup for the past decade, but arrived in Sydney on the back of a lackluster ninth-place finish at the World Cup.
Japan will be without mainstays Ramu Tokashiki and Rui Machida, but there is growing excitement over 21-year-old Aika Hirashita, who enjoyed a breakout campaign at the World Cup.
With 2021 Asia Cup MVP Himawari Akaho and Maki Takada in the lineup, Japan’s trademark gritty defense will be a tough nut to crack, and the team again looks to be China’s biggest obstacle to glory.
Japan’s title credentials will face a tough early challenge against host Australia, who finished third at last year’s World Cup.
Playing in front of the passionate home fans lifted Australia — known as the Opals — to great heights, but they have a number of top players unavailable due to injuries and WNBA commitments.
Australia will rely on a new generation of players, including sharpshooter Shyla Heal and the all-action Anneli Maley, who won a gold medal at the recent FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup in Singapore.
The Opals have never won an Asia Cup but have enjoyed podium finishes in the past three editions of the tourney.
Australia’s opening game is against the Philippines, who are boosted by the addition of exciting 21-year-old guard Vanessa de Jesus, who plays for Duke University in the United States.
Chinese Taipei is rated as a dark horse in Group B.
The top finisher in each group will advance to the semifinals, while the second and third-placed teams square off on June 30 in knockout matches.
South Korea and New Zealand launch the tournament on Monday, with China facing Lebanon later in the day.