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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Towering Zheng Tipped to Win Gold for China

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chinese basketball officials routinely fib about the height of towering center Zheng Haixia. But her other numbers do not lie.

Zheng, listed variously from 2.03 meters to 2.13 meters, was the most valuable player at the women's world championships in June in Australia. Brazil won gold, China took silver and the United States won bronze.

Now she is the reason China is the favorite for Sunday's gold medal in the Goodwill Games.

Zheng, 27, shot a staggering 83 percent from the field, 84 percent from the free throw line, and averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds at the world championships.

"She's just so much bigger than anybody else," said American Tara VanDerveer, coach of the U.S. Goodwill Games team. "She clogs up the passing lanes, presents all kinds of problems."

Just two years ago in the Barcelona Olympics, Zheng could barely play five minutes without tiring. She averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds and went home to lose weight and shape up.

In Wednesday's 77-51 win over Canada in a first-round match in the Games, Zheng played all 40 minutes, scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. In an 80-73 loss to France on Tuesday, she scored 34 points and had 15 rebounds in 34 minutes.

Chinese coach Lianbao Ma said Zheng had lost about 15 kilograms since Barcelona and now is in shape at 110 kilograms. He said the only problem is that "she's getting older."

"Her play and condition have improved tremendously," said VanDerveer, the head coach at Stanford. "If she weren't so big she wouldn't be a problem -- but she is. My father always said a good big player was better than a good small player. "And China has such great 3-point shooters that you can't drop back on her or they'll get points from outside," VanDerveer added.

After the U.S. team steamrolled the Russians 77-63 on Thursday, the stage was set for a semifinal clash between the Americans and the Chinese.

The Americans, who led 40-34 at the half, came out running in the second half and broke the game open with a 20-4 run. That gave them a 60-38 lead with about 11 minutes left in the game.

Lisa Leslie led the U.S. team with 20 points and Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil had 19. Irina Rutkovskaya had 24 for Russia.

Leslie, a 1.96 meter center, faced Russia's 2.06 meter Marina Burmistrova -- a warm-up for China's towering center.