SYDNEY, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- At the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, beauty and toughness can co-exist in prominent female players, such as China's No. 9 Li Meng.
As the team's top scorer, averaging 14.6 points in the group phase, Li took the limelight for her unstoppable shooting capacity, which helped China reach the knockout stage with four wins and one defeat.
Li told Xinhua that she often "felt spoiled" by basketball lovers calling her "LeBron Meng" - a reference to superstar LeBron James. The nickname, however, didn't come out of thin air.
"I played against No. 9 for a long time. She's tough and she just never stopped flying," Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic Basketball Tournament MVP and a leading figure of the U.S., told Xinhua, after securing a not-that-comfy 77-63 win.
Li scored a game-high 21 points in Saturday's blockbuster. Her three behind-the-arc shots ignited deafening cheers from 9,477 attendees, the tournament's largest crowd so far, with thrilled fans waving "Go! Team China" banners and shouting out her name "Li Meng, MVP!"
"When the Chinese crowd joined us singing our national anthem together from the very start, I felt as if playing on our home soil and pumped with great courage," said the sharpshooter, who was fresh off the contest with beads of sweat but flawless makeup.
After the final buzzer sounded, many people couldn't take their eyes off Li's beauty and vibrant character.
Li enjoys applying full makeup and polishing her nails. In her luggage to Sydney, there was a set of manicure tools to ensure her blue polished fingernails always remained in immaculate condition. Every time she shot a three-pointer and raised a hand signaling number three, her nails glittered brightly on the center video board.
To express her gratitude after every match, Li bounced like an energetic girl, bowed and sent hand hearts to her fans sitting in every direction of the stadium.
Starting her basketball training at the age of five, the 27-year-old Li rose to fame at the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup in 2010, averaging 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds with the MVP award. She later played a critical role in China's successful qualification campaign to the Tokyo Olympic Games, and was again awarded the MVP of the tournament.
The veteran has developed a big heart in her third World Cup journey.
On Tuesday, wearing her iconic No. 9 jersey and brushing her hair into a high ponytail as usual, Li stood on the court for the fifth time in China's starting lineup, poised to battle their last rival of the group phase, Belgium.
With a record of averaging 1.75 three-pointers in the previous four games, Li for the first time ended with no basket from behind the arc. But that didn't stop her from becoming the game's top scorer with 16 points.
"My hands must have been touched by a jinx," Li joked about her three-pointer miss.
"That's all right. Just one trick didn't work. I have many other skills in package," said Li. "Not every three-pointer goes smoothly. Without it, I can come up with other knacks to implement the offense."
The relentless bucket-getter achieved four layups, one fade-away jump shot, one pull-up jump shot and one jump shot. With only 16 seconds remaining, Li assisted Li Yueru for a layup in the paint, extending China's biggest lead over Belgium to 26 points.
During the game, a collision made Li tumble and fall, drawing people's concern over the 1.83-meter shooting guard, who had suffered a torn cruciate ligament twice in her teens and wore knee pads throughout the group phase.
Lifted up by her teammates, Li responded with two free throws made.
Described by FIBA as "aggressive, able to contribute in so many different areas" and "driving force for China," the competent Li took teamwork as her top priority.
Li said China plays "teamwork basketball," which means every player should give full play of their personal specialities inside the group as a whole, in a bid to better improve the team's overall competence.
The curtain is set to rise on Thursday, as China and France compete for a berth in the semifinals.
Chinese crowds at home and abroad await seeing these hot-red girls ride the air and shoot for glory once more at the Sydney Superdome.
"We look forward to unleashing more ability and energy in the semifinals," said Li. "No matter who we play against next, every game will be a tough test. But we will strive tenaciously to show the grit of our team, which is the most important thing." ■