Send to

S. Korea cruises past N. Korea in women's basketball

Sept. 29, 2023 - 23:23 By Yonhap
Park Ji-su of South Korea (left) tries to drive past Pak Jin-a of North Korea during the teams' Group C game of the Asian Games at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou, China, on Friday. (Yonhap)

HANGZHOU, China -- South Korea defeated North Korea 81-62 in a highly-anticipated women's basketball preliminary game at the Asian Games in China on Friday, as the countries that formed a joint team five years ago returned as foes.

South Korea overcame an early 21-11 deficit to win its second straight game in Group C at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium, as the closely-contested affair quickly turned into a blowout.

Five players on both sides had also played on the 2018 unified Korean team: Park Ji-su, Kang Lee-seul and Park Ji-hyun for South Korea, and Ro Suk-yong and Kim Hye-yon for North Korea. The joint Korean team won silver behind China at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

North Korea's head coach here, Jong Song-sim, served as an assistant coach for the unified Korean team in 2018.

South Korea, with a 2-0 record, will close out the preliminary round against Chinese Taipei on Sunday, and North Korea, now 1-1, will do the same against Thailand, also on Sunday.

The teams went through some nervy early moments. North Korea missed its first six field goal attempts and had turnovers before the game was five minutes old. South Korea, not that much sharper from the field, was 1-for-6 to start the game. South Korea maintained a 2-0 lead through the first 4:16 before North Korea got its first bucket.

Then North Korea reeled off a 6-0 run to build an 8-2 lead, and closed the opening frame up 13-11.

North Korea then jumped out to a 21-11 lead to start the second quarter, thanks to an 8-0 run that featured three-pointers by Hong Ryon-a and Ri Un-jong. South Korea was held scoreless for nearly four minutes into the second quarter.

But then South Korea reeled off an 11-0 run to go up 22-21, as North Korea struggled to find much space against some dogged South Korean defense.

South Korea took a 33-25 lead into halftime, after outscoring North Korea 22-4 over the final 3:45 of the second quarter.

South Korea pulled away further in the third quarter, with Kim Danbi's trey opening up a 46-29 lead with 6:56 left in the frame.

The South Korean lead grew to a game-high 20 points at 57-37 on Park Ji-su's layup with 2:12 to go in the third, and North Korea never threatened to get close.

The teams traded some buckets early in the fourth. A three by Hong Ryon-a got North Korea within 68-53, but Kang Lee-seul answered for South Korea with her own three in the next possession. Lee Kyung-eun's jumper restored a 20-point advantage for South Korea, which stayed in front comfortably.

Kim Danbi of South Korea drives into the paint against North Korea during the teams' Group C game of the Asian Games at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou, China, on Friday. (Yonhap)

South Korea head coach Jung Sun-min admitted afterward this was not an easy game to prepare for, given the political backdrop of the matchup.

"There was a lot of pressure on us to be playing a game like this on Chuseok, and we really wanted to play well in this one," Jung said. "We were out of sorts early on but, fortunately, our players regained their focus in the second quarter."

Jung said she'd told her players to be wary of the North Koreans' hard-nosed style of playing.

"We figured we could get into some physical battles against them," the coach added. "I told my players that they should try to stay above the fray and make sure rough stuff doesn't affect our game."

South Korean center Park Ji-su led her team with 18 points and 13 rebounds. She also blocked three shots and had four steals, but left the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent hamstring injury.

"I was really nervous before this game, to be facing North Korea on Chuseok," said Park, who confirmed that her leg was fine. "I didn't find my groove in the first quarter and never really had it the whole game. I know this was my first meeting with North Korea in five years, but I tried to focus on the game on the court since they were now my opponents."

Pak Jin-a, the 205-centimeter center for North Korea, had a game-high 29 points and grabbed 17 boards. South Korean defenders harassed the 20-year-old big nearly every time she touched the ball in the paint. Only two other North Koreans scored in double figures.

South Korea coach Jung, one of the greatest centers ever in her country during her playing days, was effusive of the North Korean center.

"If we had her on our team, we could even beat China," Jung said of the top Asian women's hoops nation.

For North Korea, coach Jong shortened her bench, using only seven players for the entire game.

Jong attributed the loss to the lack of international experience of most of her players.

"Many of them are playing at an international tournament for the first time here, and they made a lot of mistakes," Jong said. "The game didn't go our way. But in sports, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

Asked if she had been nervous about facing South Korea, Jong said in a firm and loud voice, "There was nothing to fear and nothing to feel nervous about."

South Korea struggled from downtown early, but ended up shooting 45 percent from deep (9-of-20). Forward Kang Lee-seul went 4-of-8 from the three-point range as part of her 16 points.

South Korea had 18 turnovers and North Korea had 16 in the sloppy contest. (Yonhap)