Ian Ludwig, Special to The China Post
It was a sight to behold. A sight of joy and poignancy viewed by one cager who has seen too many wars and one gearing up for the biggest in her life. Yesterday was a day to remember for Russian powerhouse Elena Baranova. The WNBA-bound, 192-centimeter superstar led her team to absolute domination, defeating Chinese Taipei 84-60 in the Jones Cup women’s division Championship game at the Taipei Municipal Stadium. What made the occasion so special for Baranova, however, was not that she sank 24 points and snatched nine rebounds. It wasn’t even that she led her team to first place and an undefeated record. What made this tournament stand out over others was that she was awarded not one, not two, but all three individual-player awards at the closing ceremony: Most Valuable player, top rebounder, and highest scorer. The first half of the game was unexpectedly close as the Chinese Taipei put up an impressive fight against the much taller, much bigger eastern Europeans. Though never actually taking the lead, Chinese Taipei, led by center Cheng Huio-yun capped a 12 points and seven rebounds, managed to tie the game at 29 points with 500 left in the second half.
Russia simply would not allow defeat, however, and ran away with the game, finishing the half at 44-40, and outscoring the nationals 24 points to 7 points in the third quarter. The faster Chinese Taipei team fought hard, but never caught their second wind. They also could not hammer a single shot, while the Russian players seemed to drop everything they threw in the air.
But credit should be given where credit is due, and the nationals took on Russia and survived, coming out with a very respectable second place. Not as much can be said for fourth-place Malaysia, who were drilled by Russia 108-33 on Wednesday, or for Japan, who came in third. A testimony to their superiority, Russia displayed astounding composure as they bombed 17 out of 18 of their free throws. Their ability to focus in the wake of screeching, shrieking local fans earned them a remarkable 94 percent from the line. Chinese Taipei, on the other hand, in an attempt to close the fast-growing gap in the score, took 14 shots from behind the arc. Two of them squeezed through the hoop, meriting them a shameful 14 percent from the outside. Following Baranova on the Russia side, Mari Kalmykova contributed 14 points and Irina Ossipova had 12 points. Also worth mentioning on Chinese Taipei, who only had one player in double digits, was Chian Feng-chun, downing nine points. In other games, Japan romped Malaysia 78-60 in the consolation game, while the University of Alberta Canadians squeezed by the Japan national team 74-72 in the ongoing men’s division.