China’s World Cup takes a hit while Poland gets a big boost

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              Poland's head coach Mike Taylor calls out instructions to his team during their group phase basketball game against China in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
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BEIJING (AP) — China’s World Cup took a big hit on Monday, and Poland got a giant boost.

In the first tough test of the young tournament for both teams, China fell to a better organized and more resilient Poland 79-76 in overtime.

The win guaranteed Poland a berth in the next round, which meant under FIBA rules it automatically advanced to an Olympic qualifying tournament with a chance to reach Tokyo next year.

Poland last played in the Olympics in 1980.

“After tonight the world is going to know who Poland players are,” Poland’s American coach, Mike Taylor, said.

Taylor said this was the core of his motivation speech before the game — respect.

“A lot of other European countries and teams are respected because of their performance and tradition,” said Taylor, who took over an up-and-down Poland six years ago and has built a solid foundation. “We are in the beginning of building our tradition here in Poland.”

Poland’s two names to remember in the Group A game were Mateusz Ponitka and American-born A.J. Slaughter. Ponitka led all scorers with 25 and Slaughter added 22.

Yi Jianlian had 24 for China.

“It was a tough game for us, a close game down the stretch,” China coach Li Nan said. “It’s a very hard loss for us.”

China can still make the second round by beating Venezuela on Wednesday in its final Group A game. But it’s a bad start for China, which was 0-10 in the last two Olympics and promised fans it would be vastly improved in its home World Cup.

China had its chances.

China led 72-71 with 6.1 seconds left in regulation, but Ponitka stole an in-bounds pass and was fouled. He forced overtime by making one of two free throws. Had he made both, Poland might have won in regulation.

China trailed 78-76 with 10.8 seconds left in overtime, but had the ball with a chance to win or tie. Instead, China failed to in-bound the ball in three seconds under Polish pressure, turning it over.

Ponitka hit a subsequent free throw and Yi missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer to disappoint a sellout crowd at the Cadillac Arena, which was originally built for the 2008 Olympics.

“The clock was running down and we had some turnovers. They hit some shots and they had the lead, but Mateusz came up with the big steal and changed the game,” Taylor said. “The ball bounced our way.”