IT was one historical win Chinese Taipei pulled off against mighty China in the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship that even its soft-spoken coach was lost for words when asked to describe the feeling.
“How to say that? More than happy,” said Hsu Chin-che, the Taiwanese mentor whose team was hardly given a second look to beat the 15-time champion bannered by former NBA stalwarts Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi.
But behind a 50 percent shooting from the three-point zone (10-of-20) and a 42-26 edge in points inside the paint, the Taiwanese fought back behind a huge second half run to pull off a king-sized 96-78 upset of the Chinese and make the semifinals of the qualifier to the World Basketball Championship in Spain next year.
The win was the first in 10 Fiba-Asia meetings between the two countries who have long been involved in an intense political dispute.
Since their first Fiba-Asia encounter in 1987, the Chinese had beaten the Taiwanese nine straight times by an average winning margin of 27.6 points, according to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon, who’s also involved in the staff gathering the team statistics in this year’s edition of the tournament.
The magnitude of the victory was so significant, Youth Daily News reporter Chen Chih-hung said the event is expected to be newspaper headlines in all of Chinese-Taipei on Saturday.
“This will be the banner story of all newspapers in Taiwan,” said the veteran reporter, one of several from Chinese-Taipei covering the event in Manila.
Added, Hsu of Taipei’s breakthrough win, “Incredible game, a magical day.”
“Before the start of the tournament, I told the players to play hard, play smart, play together.”
That’s exactly what the Taiwanese did. Even after trailing the Chinese by 17 in the first half, they never lost composure and kept fighting their way back.
They were down by just 10 at the half after Hung Chih-shan buried a long three-pointer to beat the second-quarter buzzer.
“In the second half inside the locker room, I told the players to focus, never give up. We have a chance, we’re only down by 10 (points),” recalled Hsu, adding the Taiwanese were also down by 10 against Jordan and 13 opposite Gilas Pilipinas, but still managed to pull off a win each time.
“We just want to win. Fight to the end.”
After dethroning China, the Taiwanese now face another powerhouse in two-time champion Iran in the Final Four for a shot at a finals berth.
Asked if his team can beat Iran, the Chinese-Taipei wasn’t lost for words this time.
“Today, I don’t want to think about tomorrow.”