Home pres­sure a worry for cagers

New Straits Times - - Sport -

DE­FEND­ING the Sea Games gold medal on home soil will be the big­gest chal­lenge the na­tional women’s bas­ket­ball team will ever face come Au­gust.

While win­ning gold two years ago in Sin­ga­pore was a mem­o­rable achieve­ment, noth­ing can com­pare with se­cur­ing an­other gold medal in front of home fans, said team cap­tain Nur Iz­zati Yaakub.

“When we went to Sin­ga­pore in 2015 there was no pres­sure us to win the gold medal be­cause no­body, other than us, were ex­pect­ing to,” said Iz­zati in Bukit Jalil yes­ter­day.

“But now we are the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons and ev­ery team will want to beat us. It’s a huge bur­den to carry, es­pe­cially in front of a home crowd.

“Play­ing on home soil has its ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages but what is im­por­tant is to use the home crowd sup­port to our ad­van­tage, be men­tally strong and per­form to the best of our abil­i­ties.”

With the Philip­pines strong favourites to re­tain the men’s gold medal, Malaysia’s hopes of suc­cess in the sport rests on the women’s team, who have won gold all three times women’s bas­ket­ball was con­tested in Kuala Lumpur in 1977, 1989 and 2001.

“Our team has not changed much since 2015 with the ad­di­tion of one or two play­ers,” added Nur Iz­zati, 28. “We know each other very well and the new­com­ers should have no prob­lems adapting.”

The women’s squad un­der coach Yoong Sze Yuin re­cently split a two-match se­ries against the Philip­pines at the Maba Sta­dium though nei­ther coun­try fielded their strong­est sides.

The team also went on an eight-match tour of Aus­tralia ear­lier this year and re­turned with a 5-3 record play­ing against state and club teams.

Sze Yuin said their next tour will be to Ja­pan on May 8-19 for 11 games which they will use to adapt to play­ing against fast­paced teams.

“In Aus­tralia, the teams we faced were phys­i­cally strong and the play­ers very tall — which was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for us,” said Sze Yuin. “But Ja­panese teams are fast with sharp shoot­ers and we will see how we cope with that tempo.”

One prob­lem fac­ing Sze Yuin is the knee in­jury of cen­tre R. Kalaimathi, who is in a race against time to be fit for the Sea Games.

“Kalai’s in­jury is the most se­ri­ous which she has been car­ry­ing since even be­fore the last Sea Games,” said Sze Yuin. “We need to take good care of her and hope she can re­cover in time for the Sea Games.” Devin­der Singh

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