Hansae a new power in WKBL
The Shinhan Bank S-Birds have won the Women’s Korean Basketball League title six straight times - a feat that no other sports team in the country has achieved.
Their dominance is in jeopardy this season, however, as Woori Bank Hansae stands at the top of the WKBL standings. On Sunday, Hansae extended its lead over the defending champions to three games with an 85-76 win on home court in Chuncheon, Gangwon.
“It still seems that we don’t have all that we are supposed to have, but I think our players have improved to some extent,” said Wi Sung-woo, the head coach of Woori Bank, after Sunday’s game. “This is more than one victory. I think highly of our players for not being outplayed by Shinhan Bank.”
The three-game difference will be tough for the S-Birds to overcome.
The two teams have played 25 games so far in the 35-game season and even if Shinhan wins all of the remaining 10 games, it won’t be easy to rally if Woori continues its current pace. Woori has been crushing the other five teams in the league with a 20-5 season record.
If the two teams finish the regular season tied, the team winning more head-to-head matchups has the advantage. There are two more games between the two teams left this season and Woori is currently leading three to two.
The winner of the regular season directly advances to the champion series whereas the second-, third- and fourth-place teams will have to vie against each other in a playoff to get a berth to the finals.
It has been an amazing turnaround for Hansae, who had been the last place team for four straight seasons through last year.
Much of the credit goes to Tina Thompson, 37, the all-time leading scorer in the U.S. WNBL. Since joining Hansae in November, Thompson has scored 306 points in 15 games, or 20.4 points per game. She leads the league in points per game and also averages 10.6 rebounds per game, the fourth most in the league.
Thompson led the Woori offense against Shinhan on Sunday, scoring 30 points and collecting 10 rebounds. Lim Young-hui, another forward, added 27 points and 11 rebounds.
But, the coaching methods of Wi, a 41-year-old former Shinhan Bank assistant coach who took the helm of Woori Bank after last season, has also made a difference according to the players. Wi has openly grilled players for mistakes or disobedience during games, which led some observers to initially speculate that the team had some problems with chemistry.
“It is his way of keeping the players from loosening up,” Lim said. “Sometimes, we are scolded for not playing well after winning, so the mood of the players might not have been cheerful when they leave the court.”
Tompson had initial difficulty in adjusting, according to guard Park Hye-jin.
“Our team had more losing games than winning games until last season,” said Wi. “We have maintained the lead so far, but there are still players who don’t have full confidence in their ability or potential.
“That’s why I console them and encourage them in a losing game. In a winning game, however, I give advice to make them better, like spurring a galloping horse.”
Chun Joo-won, a Shinhan franchise star who led the S-Birds to multiple champion titles, is also helping Woori as an assistant coach.
Chun worked as an assistant coach for Shinhan last season after retirement in 2011.
By Moon Gwang-lip, Song Ji-hoon [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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