China beat Lebanon to book Iran final

TIANJIN: China beat a determined Lebanon team 72-68 to book their place against Iran in the finals of the Asian Basketball Championships here Saturday.

Little known point guard Hu Xuefeng put the home team ahead for good at 70-68 with two free throws, while three blocked shots and a pair of free throws from New Jersey Net Yi Jianlian in the dying minutes sealed the win.

China, still unbeaten here in Tianjin, is seeking to win its 15th Asian championship and will face Iran on Sunday night after the Iranians dispatched Jordan 77-75 in an earlier game.

The top three finishers in Tianjin qualify for the World Basketball Championships in Turkey next year.

"Iran is a very strong team, they are balanced inside and outside, tomorrow's game will be difficult," said China's coach Guo Shiqiang.

"We have to play real well tomorrow, we will make the preparations we can."

China were 35-33 ahead at the half but Lebanon clawed its way back to tie the game at 62-62 with just under four minutes left to play on a jump shot by Brian Feghali.

Lebanon's Yugoslav coach Dragan Raca said the foul that sent China's point guard to the line with just over 40 seconds left was a "strange call" that decided the game.

"I am a coach that never talks about referees in my life, but now I have to talk," Raca said.

"This is a high level competition, China is a very high level team, they don't need help, but one referee gave help."

Besides 18 points, Yi also grabbed four rebounds despite limited playing time due to foul trouble.

Former Dallas Mavericks forward Wang Zhizhi led China with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Lebanon was led by former Phoenix Suns centre Jackson Vroman who netted 27 points and grabbed 10 boards.

Iran, also unbeaten, dispatched Jordan when Mohammadsamad Bahrami drove to the basket with 12 seconds left to set up his team's chance to defend their Asian championship title.

"Today was a great game for us, very important for us, we win the game, but for us our main mission is winning the championship," said Iran point guard Mahdi Kamrany, who scored nine points and dished out six assists.

"We have a lot of experience in (game-ending situations), we have played together a lot before, so we knew what we should do in the last situation and we did it."

Bahrami led Iran with 23 points, while sharp shooter Hamed Afagh chipped in 18 points for the winners who jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half, only to watch Jordan come back thanks to 17 points from US-born guard Rasheim Wright.

Memphis Grizzlies' towering 2.17 metre (7.1 feet) centre Hamed Ehadadi was held to five points, but had 12 rebounds and blocked three shots while anchoring Iran's defense.

"We defended Ehadadi better than any team here... but our problem is we had a very bad first half," said Jordan's Portuguese coach Mario Palma.

"In the second half we played much better, but in the end we were not lucky, we were less lucky than they were, so they won, they deserved to win."