CHANGSHA, China – Powerhouse Iran is not one which easily forgets.
Hamed Haddadi proved to be an unstoppable force inside and the Iranians were unforgiving in a 75-62 rout of South Korea to advance to the semifinals of the Fiba Asia Championship here on Thursday.
The 7-foot-2 Haddadi finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds in the lopsided win that avenged Iran’s 79-77 loss to the same team in the gold-medal match of last year’s Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The win primed up the reigning champions for a possible semis showdown with host China, which is expected to breeze past India in their own quarterfinal pairing later in the day.
Former Olympic coach Dirk Bauermann however, doesn’t want to preempt the titanic clash between the two countries that won the last eight championships of the tournament between themselves.
Nonetheless, the German native said Iran needs to play ‘smart offensively and has to make good decisions’ should it faces the host country in the next round.
“It’s a little bit early to talk about China, but certainly we’ll have our hands full against them (Chinese), they have great players and are extremely well coached. It’s going to be a really hard game,” said Bauermann.
Iran will be in its fourth semifinals appearances in the last five staging of the meet. The only time it failed to advance to the Final Four was in the 2011 edition in Wuhan when Jordan and coach Tab Baldwin upset the Iranians in the quarterfinals.
The defending champions raced to a 23-8 lead and never looked back, a strong start which Bauermann said the Iranians needed against a team that nearly toppled mighty China in the preliminary round.
“I thought our players understood that Korea always plays well early in games. They understood that we have to play focused and win the first five minutes of the game, which we did,” said the Iran coach, who went on to heap praises on the Korean team.
“They played outstanding basketball at this point. They’ve almost had China beaten and lost to Qatar in overtime. Although they lost today, they played extremely well the whole tournament.”
South Korea failed to make the semis for the first time since 2009 in Tianjin as it had seven new players in its roster following its successful gold medal campaign in the 2014 Asiad.
“It’s time for us to rebuild. It’s definitely different from the one we had in the Asian Games because we have seven new players,” said coach Dong Kwang Kim through an interpreter.