Continental super-powers, Korea, the defending champion, and China, Beijing Olympics quarterfinalist, set up the summit clash for Thursday’s FIBA-Asia Cup basketball championship for women, even as India warmed the cockles of many a local heart by making its place safe in the Elite Zone after an authoritative win against Malaysia on Wednesday.

While the semifinals involving China and Korea proved absorbing, the talking point was India’s performance after the humiliating record of succumbing in all the five previous matches in the league.

Handling pressure

In the semifinals, Korea smothered the pressure from Japan with a touch of authority to emerge winner by 101-57 points — Korea won the earlier meeting in the league at 82-68 — while China had to ward off a stiff challenge from Chinese Taipei, which even led briefly 43-42 in the third quarter. Finally, China won 70-59.

Korea will be playing its 21st final of the event, which began in 1965, while this is China’s 15th since its entry into the fold in 1976.

India excelled when it mattered, enjoying some exotic moments in shooting and in rebound gathering to retain its place in the Elite Zone. The 90-74 victory over Malaysia in a do-or-die duel, sprinkled with pulsating phases, projected some virtues of the home team, hitherto unnoticed in a transparent canvas.

For once, the star of India’s success was not Geethu Anna Jose. It was the gangling Harjeet Kaur. The 31 points she scored in the match reflect the elegance and effectiveness of her basketing.

Height advantage

Her forte was lay-up shots, her height contributing immensely to tower over the defence. And Harjeet sprinted back to be under the board for collecting rebounds as well.

While Geethu’s presence and guidance could not be cast away, accolades are due to the splendid performance of Anitha Pauldurai whose ball control was adept and authoritative.

Anitha was the backbone of every sally and worked with tremendous understanding with Geethu, Raspreet and in the closing stages with the energetic Anju Lakra.

The area of deficiency lay in poor conversion of free throws and not finishing the few planned sallies. There were too many errors too in the zone.

Early in the fourth quarter, India lost the services of Prashanti Singh, a fine three-point player, who had to leave the court for committing five fouls.

Malaysia fights

If there is a suggestion that Malaysia was outplayed it is unjustified. The team was in the contest almost through and on more than one occasion threatened to level after actually doing it at 42-all in the second quarter. The score-line was 16-24 at the first quarter and was only 44-42 at halftime.

What stood out in Malaysia’s display was the streak of aggression so well portrayed by Bong Feng and Yann Yann. The three pointers they scored were bewitching in the full sense of the term.

It was only during the third quarter that the Malaysians failed to contain the surge of the Indians led by Harjeet whose precision basketing both from under the hoop and in free throws enabled India pile up points and increase the lead. In the final quarter, India’s domination was absolute.

Coach J.B. Singh conceded that India had no option but to go all out in the match and the must-win factor served as the momentum.

He was confident that the BFI would read the lessons and prepare the team well for the next edition two years later.

Earlier, Lebanon earned the fifth place in the Elite Pool pushing out Thailand to the next zone.

The results:

Semifinals: Korea 101 (Yeon Ha Beon 12, Jung Eun Park 12, Ha Eun Joo 14, Kew Yong Park 19, Young Suk Kang 10) bt Japan 57 (Kumiko Yamada 12).

China 70 (Nan Chen 10, Lan Biang 10, Liu Dan 10, Chen Xioli 12) bt Chinese Taipei 59 (Wang Ting Li 10, Hui Yun Chang 11, Yi-Hung Ma 10).

Qualifying matches: (6-7) India 90 (Harjeet Kaur 31, Geetha Anna Jose 21, Raspreet Sidhu 11) bt Malaysia 74 (Beng Fong Goh 16, Yann Yann Pee 15, Suik May Kew 14).

(5-6): Lebanon 83 (Chantelle Anderson 24, Nisrin Dandan 15, Chada Nasr 23) bt Thailand 58 (Juthamas Jantakan 13, Suksomwong 21).

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