Jin An (L) and Kim Danbi of South Korea try to box out a Serbian player during the teams' Group A game in the Tokyo Olympic women's basketball tournament at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Sunday. (Yonhap)
TOKYO -- Where people saw three straight losses for the South Korean women's basketball team at the Tokyo Olympics, players and coaches saw hope.
South Korea closed out its brief Olympic campaign with a 65-61 loss to Serbia in the teams' final Group A game at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, north of Tokyo.
South Korea finished last in Group A, behind Spain, Serbia and Canada.
Expectations were admittedly not particularly high for South Korea, who came in as the lowest-ranked team in the group at 19th. Spain is third, Canada fourth and Serbia eighth.
And yet, South Korea gave Spain a scare, leading by two at halftime before losing 73-69. South Korea got blown out by Canada 74-53, only after getting outscored in the fourth quarter 25-14.
Against Serbia, South Korea was only down by six entering the final quarter. South Korea even led 61-60 with 2:32 to play before giving up the game's final five points.
"Our players are even better than (the coaching staff) thought," said head coach Chun Joo-weon after Sunday's game. "The women's basketball program hasn't done much internationally for nearly 20 years. I think this is the new beginning. Hopefully, these players will have gained more confidence from this and will have even better results in the future."
South Korea kept things close despite struggles from two of their best players. Starting center Park Ji-su shot only 4-of-12. The usually reliable Kang Lee-seul only made one field goal out of 13 attempts, and none from 10 shots taken from beyond the arc.
As a team, South Korea went 9-of-34 from downtown.
"We couldn't buy a three-pointer, but we still played a solid game. There's nothing we can do about shots not falling," Chun said. "The players said their confidence grew the more games they played. It's too bad the tournament ended so quickly."
Park Ji-su, who plies her trade in the WNBA for the Las Vegas Aces, said she would have liked to see a different format.
In the women's basketball, 12 teams were divided into three groups of four, with the top two teams, plus the two-best No. 3 seeds moving on to the quarterfinals.
In volleyball, though, 12 teams were paired into two groups of six, and the top four teams from each group progressed to the knockouts.
A group with five other countries would have meant more games for South Korea and an extra opportunity for the team to try to squeeze into the quarterfinals.
"Even though we didn't win any games, we still played good games," Park said. "The big takeaway is that we all feel like we can do this. I just feel terrible that I didn't do my part today and cost us a game that we could have won."
Park joined the national team only four days before its departure from South Korea to Japan, since she was still in the middle of her WNBA season. She said she was still developing chemistry with her teammates on the fly.
"We played well despite limited training time," Park added. "If we have more time to prepare, then we can expect even better results. We'll try to get to the knockout stage at the 2024 Olympics in Paris." (Yonhap)