SAPPORO (FIBA World Championship
) - China wasted 30 points from Yao Ming as Italy won their Group D showdown 84-69 in Sapporo on Saturday.
The 2.26m giant, who only returned to play earlier this month having recovered from foot surgery, got a warm ovation after a superb performance in his team's defeat.
Yao's had a game-high points haull - 11 scored in the third quarter - and a total of nine rebounds before Carlo Recalcati's men punished China's shaky defense.
The Azzurri buried seven of their total 13 three pointers in the third quarter with Matteo Soragna effort from behind the arc with three minutes left in the third quarter giving the young Italian side a 53-50 lead and they stayed in front the rest of the way.
Overall, Italy were 13 of 25 for a scintillating 52% from three-point range while China's promising Yi Jianlian was held to just nine points on two of six shooting.
Gianluca Basile, who is one of the three players left in the roster from Italy's silver-medal winning side at the Olympics in Athens, had a team high 27 points. He was four of five from behind the arc.
"It was important for us to win," said Basile.
"Yao has caused us many problems underneath the basket but we have worked well in the zone and the shots went in, which has given us a lot of confidence."
Italy, who were granted a wild card to compete in Japan after failing to qualify last year in the EuroBasket, enjoyed a good start, netting the first five points of the game.
It took China less than two minutes to revert the score, with Yao adding his team's first two points as his team took a 9-5 lead midway through the first stanza.
Marco Mordente's two free throws allowed the Azzurri to go into the second period with a narrow 17-16 advangage.
Luca Garri stepped up for Italy with two consecutive three pointers with 14 minutes played to see his team go 27-20 up.
Basile struck his first three-pointer to give Italy a 39-35 half-time lead, while Yao finished the opening half with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Yao came back on the court all fired up, adding nine points after three minutes played after the break to give his team a 46-43 lead before Marco Belinelli's effort from behind the arc levelled the score.
Yao's jump shot gave China a 48-47 lead midway through the third quarter before Soragna's three pointer gave Italy a 53-50 lead,
With seven three-pointers coming from five different players, China struggled to stop Italy's attack and they went in to the final quarter with a 67-56 deficit, which proved too much for Jonas Kazlauskas' men.
"We did a good job in the first half but in the second half we seemed to lose our concentration especially in defense," said Yao.
"The game lasts 40 minutes and if you lose several minutes of focus you are punished as we were."Cindy Garcia-Bennett