BELGRADE -- South Korea has squeezed past Britain 82-79 to stay alive in the Olympic women's basketball qualifying tournament.
Shooting guard Kang Lee-seul made her first six 3-point field goals for a team-high 26 points, giving South Korea its first win of the four-nation competition at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in the Serbian capital Saturday.
Coached by Lee Moon-kyu, South Korea, world No. 19, nearly blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter but held on to beat the 18th-ranked Britain thanks to a couple of late defensive stops.
Center Park Ji-su stuffed the box score with 15 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three steals. Three starters -- Kang, Park Hye-jin and Kim Dan-bi -- played the entire 40 minutes, as coach Lee shortened his bench in this must-win game.
South Korea, which lost to Spain 83-46 on Thursday, will close out the tournament against China on Sunday. The tipoff is at 12 p.m. (local time) and 8 p.m. (Seoul time).
The top three out of these four teams will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. China clinched its spot by beating Spain 64-62 earlier Saturday.
South Korea will join China in the Olympics with a victory on Sunday. Even if South Korea loses Sunday, it will still advance to the Olympics if Spain defeats Britain.
But if South Korea falls to China and Britain upsets Spain on Sunday, it will leave South Korea, Spain and Britain all tied at 1-2 in the win-loss record. In that case, the point difference in head-to-head matches will break the tie. South Korea is currently last in the group at minus-34.
South Korea last played in the Olympics in 2008.
South Korea overcame some shaky moments early to jump out to a 16-10 lead in the first and made five 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes, including a pair by Kang.
Kang stayed hot in the second quarter, and her fifth straight make from downtown gave South Korea a 42-26 cushion with 2:34 remaining in the first half.
Britain showed some life from deep late in the quarter, with Karlie Samuelson draining three in a row from beyond the arc to key an 11-3 run for Britain. South Korea still took a 45-37 lead into the second half.
Park, the 198-centimeter center with WNBA experience, scored eight of her 15 points in the third, while recording three blocks.
It was 70-54 for South Korea after 30 minutes, a seemingly insurmountable lead given Britain's mediocre shooting to that point.
Kim Dan-bi's layup put South Korea up 80-64 with 5:49 left in the game, but that's when fatigue started coming into play for South Korea on both ends.
It allowed Britain to rip off a 15-0 run, which cut the deficit to 80-79 with 53 seconds left.
South Korea dug deep and made a crucial defensive stop, and then Kang converted two free throws at the other end to give her side more breathing room at 82-79.
Rachael Vanderwal missed a 3-point attempt with seven seconds remaining, and Britain failed to get off another shot after Samuelson grabbed the offensive board.
South Korea shot 13-of-22 from deep, compared with 9-of-27 for Britain. Temi Fagbenle had 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting, along with six rebounds and five assists in the losing cause. (Yonhap)