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TOKUSHIMA (FIBA Asia Championship) - East Asian powerhouse Korea overcame a few scares to scrape past Middle Asia challengers Kazakhstan 80-76 in the losing semifinalists game on Sunday.
Korea's third place finish earned them a place in the FIBA Olympic qualifiers to be held next year. The winners of the final between Lebanon and Iran later tonight will automatically qualify for the Beijing Olympics with the runners-up joining Korea for the qualifiers.
Korea ran into a deficit in the early phases as Kazakh sank baskets from the paint as well as the perimeter with customary gusto.
"It was not easy picking the start five since all the players were exhausted from the semifinal last night," reasoned out Korea coach Choi Bu Yung.
"I picked a younger line-up. Their inexperience showed as we fell behind," he said.
"I had kept my main players back anyway. Once I used them we got our rhythm," Bu Yung said.
The coach said he was happy the team got the opportunity to play the qualifiers again, "although we came here with the aim to win the championship."
"I think playing this tough championship has been a very good experience for my young line-up. It'll stand them in very good stead when they play the qualifiers, although we have to improve a lot if we have to take on the European teams," the coach added.
Kazakh coach Vitaliy Strebkov said any experience beyond the semifinals was a bonus for his team.
"I know taking on Ha Seung-Jin was going a little too much for us. Nevertheless, I think the boys gave a good account of themselves," he said.
"In fact we showed throughout the championship, what Kazakh basketball is," he said.
Korea 80 (Ha Seung-Jin 25, Kim Joo-Sung 18, Cha Jae-Young 11) bt Kazakhstan 76 (Anton Ponomarev 16, Rustam Yargaliyev 14, Yevgeniy Issakov 11). Quarterwise: 23-25, 42-41, 61-55.