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Korea out for payback versus Iran in FIBA Asia Challenge Final
TEHRAN (FIBA Asia Challenge 2016) - The final day of the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016 in Tehran, Iran is upon us, and only two teams are left standing to dispute the coveted championship title.
On one corner, we have defending champions and hosts Iran, who have gone undefeated to get to this point, while, on the other corner, we have East Asian side Korea, who had to scramble last night in their close win over upstarts Iraq.
Coach Dirk Bauermann’s boys have been, hands down, the best team this whole tournament so far. Their combination of size, speed, shooting, and their balance between experience and youth have just made them an unstoppable freight train. They have beaten foes by an average of 37 points, including a 38-point blowout of Korea on Day 6. They lead the whole competition in rebounding (50.0rpg) and field goal shooting (46.5%), and, of course, they have perhaps the best center in all of Asia, Hamed Haddadi.
Speaking of Haddadi, the 2.18m 31-year-old big man has been on a tear of late. He started the tournament pretty slow by his standards, averaging just 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per game, but he has since picked up his production. In Iran’s last four contests, Haddadi has been at the forefront of Team Melli’s charge, putting up 23.0 points, 16.8 boards and 3.5 rejections per outing. It seems his performance has intensified in proportion to the level of competition, and, if that’s any indication, then his play here in the Final should be his best yet.
As for Korea, coach Hur Jae should feel fortunate that his wards have reached this far. Korea started the tournament very strong, winning their first four assignments by an average of 24.0 points, but they seemingly got shaken up when Iran plastered them, 85-47, on the last day of group play. If not for two late free throws from Kim JongKyu, Korea would have been knocked off by Chinese Taipei in the Quarter-Finals, and, if not for some endgame mental lapses, Iraq would have upset them last night.
Still, despite those near-misses, Korea are a team to be reckoned with. They lead the tournament in assists with 18.3 per game, and they are second in both three-point shooting (10.7 makes per game at 37.1% accuracy) and rim protection (3.3 blocks per contest). They are an explosive team, too, as proven by their hitting a tournament-high 20 triples against Iraq last September 13. If Iraq aren’t careful, Korea’s high-performing perimeter players like Kim SunHyung, Lee JungHyun and Heo IlYoung may inflict a lot of hurt.
Whatever happens, the Final should be filled with a ton of excitement. Iran certainly want to complete a rare hat-trick of FIBA Asia Cup/Challenge titles after winning the 2012 and 2014 editions in succession, but Korea will pull out all the stops to thwart them and achieve a measure of payback.
In today’s other games, Chinese Taipei face India for 7th place, China play Japan for a berth in the top five and Jordan take on Iraq for the last spot on the podium.