China overcame a slow start on Saturday to dominate its opening game at the 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball for Women, trouncing Mali 91-67 in the Olympics warm-up.
China's center Chen Nan, who tied with Mali's Djenebou Sissoko to pour in the game-high 24 points, said that the first ever match with Mali "helps the Chinese to spot its own problems before the Olympics."
Chen Nan (R), center of the China women's basketball team, blocks her rival during the FIBA Diamond Ball for Women against Mali in Haining, a city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Aug. 2, 2008. [Xinhua]
Thomas Maher, head coach of the Chinese national team, also regarded the game as a way to find solutions to their weaknesses.
"The high-quality match helps us find and solve problems in such important areas as possession of the ball," he told reporters.
Mali stunned the hosts with a flying start, taking a 16-13 lead before China's Sui Feifei hit a three-pointer to tie the score 16-16 and China's 7-0 run put it up 20-18 at the end of first quarter.
The veteran Chinese then prevailed, holding on the lead 35-32 at the end of the second quarter.
Sui Feifei, center of the Chinese team, said they were not quite used to Mali's style at first, but the readjustment worked later.
Miao Lijie (L), guard of the China women's basketball team, tries a lay-up during the FIBA Diamond Ball for Women against Mali in Haining, a city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Aug. 2, 2008. [Xinhua]
"We came to terms with the style of the physical Malian team," she said. "It's a great first game."
China went on a charge in the third quarter. With Sui Feifei hitting a three-pointer in the remaining 20 seconds and Zhang Wei's two points in the dying seconds, China extended the lead to double digits, 61-50.
China stayed comfortably with the lead in the fourth quarter and Zhang Wei hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds left to notch the 91-67 win.
"We have a lot of speed on the bench, such the twin sisters Zhang Wei and Zhang Yu," said Maher, explaining the reason for the victory over the African team. "And they are learning their roles better."
The Chinese women's team, which grabbed a bronze at the Los Angeles Olympics and a silver at Barcelona 1992, placed only ninth in the Athens 2004.
The hosts consider the Beijing Olympics as a chance to deliver along-awaited comeback. Maher has expected the Chinese to have a chance to advance into the semis.
Mali's head coach Jose Ruiz attributed the loss to the lack of physical talent, saying, "the gap in physical situation between the two teams is big."
"We tried as much as possible," the reigning African champion head coach said.
China will vie against the United States, Spain, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Mali in a round-robin women's preliminary round for a berth in the quarterfinals at the Beijing Games.
Looking for an easy game in the quarterfinals, China must try to finish second after the Americans in the preliminary round Group B.
Maher began to coach the Chinese team in 2005 and was asked to make the team competitive as he had done with Australia and New Zealand before.
Mali qualified for its first ever Olympic Games at the 2007 FIBA Africa Championships in Senegal. They beat the Ivory Coast and the traditional powerhouse Angola in the knockout stages.
The 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball for Women, the last major international basketball event before the basketball tournaments at the Beijing Games, tipped off on Saturday, with Latvia romped past Russia 75-69 in the opening game. .
The Diamond tournament attracts China, Australia, Russia, the United States, Mali and Latvia.
(Xinhua News Agency August 4, 2008)