South Korea wins thriller to face China in final
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South Korea wins thriller to face China in final

Lee Sang-Min went numb when everyone else went wild, not realizing that his 3-point basket at the final buzzer had launched South Korea into the Asian Games final against China.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2002 17:19 IST

Lee Sang-Min went numb when everyone else went wild, not realizing that his 3-point basket at the final buzzer had launched South Korea into the Asian Games final against China.

Unguarded Lee fired from atop the 3-point arc and swished the ball through the hoop as time expired here Saturday, giving South Korea a dramatic 69-68 men's basketball semi-final victory over Philippines.

"When the ball left my hands, I felt incredibly great," Lee said. "I felt certain I would make the shot. When the ball went in, I couldn't feel anything. Only when I saw all the players coming toward me did I realize we had won."

A crowd of about 7,500 screamed with joy as realization dawned on Lee.

"I didn't realize time was out. I didn't know we had won," he said. "I actually had some sort of blackout for a few seconds."

The thrilling victory sent the Koreans, unbeaten on their home court at the Games, into Monday's title match against the gold medal favorites, a China team they have not beaten in 20 years.

The Chinese, who routed Kazakhstan 131-62 in the other semi-final, seek their fifth consecutive Asian Games gold medal, having not lost an Asiad title since falling to South Korea in the 1982 final at Delhi.

National Basketball Association top draft pick Yao Ming had 19 points, four blocked shots and seven rebounds for China, which cleared the bench in the second half and still scored almost at will against their outmatched foes.

South Korea have settled for three Asiad silver medals and a bronze since upsetting China two decades ago and coach Kim Jin admitted his team was looking ahead to a finals matchup with the Chinese and had underrated the Philippines.

"I didn't expect this kind of game," he said. "The players were really powerful. It was harder than I expected. We prepared for the game with China and their team was better than I thought."

Korean hero Lee learned a lesson in overconfidence from the narrow triumph, a lesson he hopes to pass along to China.

"We thought we would win because we were a little ahead of them and China has the exact same feeling towards us because they have beaten us all the way so far," Lee said.

"I'm sure they have in their minds that they will beat us the same way we beat the Philippines. No doubt about it, we will do our best in the final."

Philippines scoring leader Rodericko Racela sank a 3-point shot with 51.2 seconds remaining to give the Filipinos a 68-66 lead, completing a 16-5 run that gave them their first edge since the early moments of the second half.

Racela, who had 14 points, rebounded a miss by Seo Jang-Hoon and was fouled by the Korean big man with 23.9 seconds remaining. Racela missed both free throws to keep the Koreans within range and the Filipinos would pay dearly.

Bang Sung Yoon lost the ball on Korea's last gasp but Lee recovered and seconds later connected on his pressure-packed shot, after which Filipino Donaldo Hontiveros could only lay face down on the court in sadness.

South Korea's Moon Kyung-Eun scored a game-high 18 points. Lee added 15 and Seo had 14 points.

Losing coach Joseph Uichico wished he had called a timeout when Racela was on the free throw line so his players could have gone over strategy. They could have fouled twice without giving Koreans free throws, a plan that would have erased valuable seconds from the clock.

"I blame myself for this loss," Uichico said. "I should have called a timeout before the free throws. Because the shot missed, they had no time to think. I had two timeouts left.

"If I had just reminded them they had two fouls to give, we might have won.

"We had a great game plan and we followed it to the letter. We got beat by a 3-pointer. It happens. We have to accept it."

Kim said his strategy in the final seconds was not to go for a game-winner rather than a two-pointer to equalize. Strategy went out the window when the ball came loose but the Koreans made the most of the mayhem.

"I didn't tell the team to go for a 3-pointer. It just happened," Kim said. "A good shooter got free and he just happened to have a 3-point shot."

Seo summed up the pressure on the Asiad hosts and the nervousness they felt at a potential premature exit from gold medal contention.

"I'm quite upset because we are at home," Seo said. "If we win, wonderful. But if we lose, that's dragging on us for the rest of our careers. The press will be picking on us."

First Published: Oct 12, 2002 17:19 IST