Despite playing without its star K.S. Poojamol, who had injured her ankle on Saturday night, Kerala defeated Punjab 64-53 and entered the girls’ final of the 65th National junior basketball championship at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium here on Sunday evening.
The host will meet defending champion Chhattisgarh, which defeated Uttar Pradesh earlier, in Sunday’s final. It will be a repeat of last year’s title clash.
The boys final will also be a repeat of last year’s trophy clash. Defending champion Delhi overcame a strong challenge from Maharashtra at 91-79 while Punjab, riding on junior international Gurvinder Singh’s fine form, defeated Tamil Nadu 85-59 in the semifinals.
The Kerala girls began in impressive fashion, rushing to an 8-0 lead but Punjab came charging back and levelled at the same score. That was when doubts began to set in, in the home camp.
Punjab thrived on Gagandeep Kaur, who was in fine touch. In fact, the former youth international was the star of the day, a one-girl army who found her way in easily and came up with a steady stream of baskets which fetched her team 28 points.
She was also a reliable hand with the rebounds and played a big role in keeping the home star, Elizabeth Hillarios, on a tight leash.
But just when Punjab took the lead at 29-25 with a minute to go for half-time, Gagandeep committed her fourth foul. Punjab virtually went into a shell after that with its star trying to play it safe, to avoid being sent out.
The teams were level at 29 at half time but it was all Kerala after that. Elizabeth, who was converting just about 50 per cent of her free throws till then, regained her confidence and touch with the rebounds and shooting too.
With left-hander Arathi Vimal hoisting some nice long-rangers, using E.K. Amrutha’s smart assists, and with substitute centre Aiswarya Nair handling the rebounds impressively, Kerala went from strength to strength.
The host’s point guard India Nelson took a short break to tend to her painful knee but was back to put the finishing touches to a fine day.
Gagandeep was out with five fouls with about two minutes to go but by then Kerala had taken a huge lead.
The results (semifinals): Boys: Delhi 91 (Hemant Hooda 24, Sunil 20) bt Maharashtra 79 (Ashraf Siddique 18, Parab Harshal 17).
Punjab 85 (Gurvinder Singh Gill 29, Arshpreet Singh 17) bt TN 59 (M. Harissh 10, G. Sivaram 18, Jedidiah Gabriel 11).
Girls: Chhattisgarh 105 (Sangeeta Kaur 32, Sharanjeet Kaur 29) bt UP 53 (Barkha Sonkar 27).
Kerala 64 (Elizabeth Hilarious 23, Arathi Vimal 16, Aiswarya A. Nair 10) bt Punjab 53 (Gagandeep Kaur 28, Samriti 14).
Saturday’s late result: Boys’ quarterfinal: TN 88 bt Kerala 78.