Although “Ace” Park Ji-soo, 25, was not at her best, the Cheongju KB Stars found a way to dominate without her.
KB defeated Busan BNK Thumb 83-62 in the first round of the 2023-2024 Woori WON Women’s Professional Basketball League at Sajik Indoor Gymnasium in Busan on Tuesday. With the win, KB ended the first round with a winning percentage of 0.800 (4-1) after winning two straight games.
Last season, KB was a shadow of its 2021-22 self. Before the season started, Park Ji-soo was diagnosed with panic disorder and was sidelined. KB head coach Kim Wan-soo said at the media day, “We don’t see it as a crisis, but everyone sees it as an opportunity. We will be able to show a good enough performance,” but in the end, the team finished the regular season in fifth place with a 10-20 record (0.333 winning percentage) and failed to qualify for the playoffs. In addition to Park Ji-soo, Kim Min-jung, Uhm Seo-i, and Shin Ye-young were confirmed with COVID-19, leaving the team with fewer players available.
But this season is different. Before the season, the team was called up for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, where they won a bronze medal. So far this season, he’s averaged 20.3 points, 18.3 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in 32:28 minutes in four games before Game 20. That’s a double-double in every game. In the opening game against Shinhan Bank on the 5th, he flew with 30 points and 21 rebounds, and in the next game (against Samsung Life Insurance), he had a triple-double with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Before the match on the 20th, Kim admitted to saying, “When Park Ji-soo tries to work hard, the lead widens, and when he rests, it narrows. He said, “My physical condition is not bad (at the beginning). I was greedy because it was early. Ji-soo was also greedy, so she tired herself out and missed something easy and made an error,” he analyzed. Kim concluded, “You can play well if you don’t get greedy and take it easy. I’m looking forward to seeing her play well again today.”
However, Park didn’t have a great performance on the day. In the early stages, the dominance under the basket allowed them to win rebounds, and the offense derived from it was successful, helping KB take the lead. With the lead in hand, KB sent Park to the bench late in the first quarter to rest veteran big man Kim Sodam. They brought Kim Sodam back in again with about half of the second quarter remaining, where KB was able to rest Park Ji-soo until the end of the half as they never trailed.
Park played 4:41 in the third quarter and then none in the fourth. In total, Park played 17 minutes on the night, scoring 6 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists. It was the first time this season that he didn’t have at least 10 points or rebounds in either category.
KB, however, found its groove in the second half, with shooting guard Kang Yi-sul scoring 22 points, while guard Heo Ye-eun continued her good form, finishing with 14 points and five assists. Backup Lee Chae-eun also chipped in with 10 points to minimize Park’s absence.
“Today, (Park) Ji-soo wasn’t feeling well, but the rest of the players did a good job of filling in,” Kim said after the game. “It wasn’t that Park Ji-soo couldn’t play,” he said, “but I think she was tired from playing three games in six days. She had a game two days later, so I gave her a break.”
Of course, Park Ji-soo is still an indispensable resource for KB. In a postgame interview, Kang said, “It may seem like we’re relying on Jisoo, but we’re using her. She helps us on offense and is a threat on defense,” Kang said. “We use her, and she helps us, and that’s team play,” he added. But KB has learned to win even with Park Ji-soo’s reduced playing time.