BEIRUT: Defending champions Lebanon scorched Uzbekistan 84-49 Tuesday to secure the top spot in Group A of the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, setting up an exciting match with Qatar in the quarterfinals Thursday.
Lebanon finished the preliminary round with three wins and one loss, as they look to maintain their momentum in the playoffs. They are also vying to keep their title as defending champions after their victory in the 2010 FIBA Asia Cup in Ghazir.
Lebanon’s star Fadi al-Khatib was again in the spotlight, as he scored a tournament-high 37 points to lead the Cedars to an easy win over the Uzbeks.
Khatib, dubbed the “Tiger,” is the leading scorer of the tournament with an average 27 points per game, ahead of Iran’s Samad Bahrami, and third in rebounds with 10.8 rebounds per game.
Head coach Ghassan Sarkis kept Khatib on court for almost the whole game. But he took advantage of the no-sweat match to get some players off the bench and rested several of his starters, including Rodrigue Akl, Jean Abdelnour and American-born Garnett Thompson.
Despite the big win, Lebanon showed signs of complacency, evidenced in the beginning of the second quarter when they failed to score in the first two minutes.
The slow moment quickly turned, as Charles Tabet controlled the board with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Elie Rustom hit two 3-pointers to finish with 10 points. Nadim Souaid also had double figures.
“These are games that you need to put away without causing too much trouble for yourselves.
“The win is important, but it was also important we won without much damage,” Sarkis said.
Lebanon will have to keep up this momentum in what is likely to be a closer match against Qatar. The teams last met at the 2009 Asian Championship in Wuhan, China, with Lebanon winning 73-63.
Qatar has had a less-than-stellar performance at the Asia Cup. They finished fourth in Group B with a single win and three losses, one of which was against Chinese Taipei 75-73 Tuesday and ended their hopes of avoiding Lebanon in the quarterfinals.
They are led by veteran forward Yasine Ismael and former New Orleans Hornets guard Trey Johnson who scored 15 points in his debut against Taipei, after missing the first three games due to injury.
In the quarterfinals, Group B winner Iran will play Uzbekistan, while Philippines will play Chinese Taipei and the hosts Japan will have a difficult task against China. All quarterfinals games will be played Thursday following a day’s rest.