The NZ Tall Blacks rounded out phase two of their preparations for the FIBA World Championship for Men with an 89-76 loss to Russia at the Adecco Cup tournament in Slovenia.
New Zealand were still within shot of victory, trailing by five points into the final quarter, but conceded 11 straight points to fall away down the stretch.
Kirk Penney led all scorers for the game with 29 points (8/16 FG, 4/7 3pt, 9/9 FT).
He had the Kiwis on the board first with three free throws and they threatened an early break with eight unanswered points. But the Russian shooters quickly found their range, hitting five three-pointers to trail by just one (23-24) after a quarter. While Penney was the lead scoring again, Tall Blacks assistant coach Dillon Boucher was a pains to explain that the side is a team.
“We are very much team orientated. Kirk has obviously been doing well, but it takes a lot of guys doing the work to help Kirk. It’s been solid team efforts so far. A lot of guys don’t really show on the stats sheets, but are really putting in the work,” says Boucher.
The Tall Blacks were struggling to contain their opponents defensively and fell into foul trouble during the second period. Russia were proving just as deadly from the line, converting their first 14 FT chances and 13/14 in the quarter.
Consecutive three-point plays from Vitaliy Fridzon and Timofey Mozgov gave them a six-point advantage, but by halftime, that margin was just two and the game was still poised.
Penney already had 16 points, but the Kiwis had again given away too much possession (12 turnovers).
The Russians made their decisive burst upon the restart, when guard Anton Ponkrashov scored 10 consecutive points, including a pair of treys, to open up a double-figure gap.
It was back to just a handful entering the final stanza, but almost immediately, Russia put the game beyond reach with another big run (11-0) fuelled by forward Andrey Vorontsevich.
“They (the Russians) showed us defensive things we aren’t usually up against such as ‘match-up zone’ and ‘switch defense’. It’s a learning curve against it and that style of play. It’s not that common in our part of the world. But we play Russia again next week and we can see what we have learned. We don’t want to harp on about it, but it is all about learning for the world champs. We want to win these games, but we want to learn for the world champs. Whoever wins during the pre seasons doesn’t necessarily win during the big tournament,” says Boucher
The Russians won the 2007 Eurobasket title, but had to rely on a wild-card entry into this year’s world championship and are playing without NBA star Andrei Kirilenko. They had lost to Serbia and Slovenia in their previous outings at this event.
The Tall Blacks now have a chance to regroup and will face their rivals again at a tournament in Croatia next week.
Sunday, August 15
Russia 89 (Andrey Vorontsevich 19, Anton Ponkrashov 18, Sergei Bykov 11) New Zealand 76 (Kirk Penney 29, Craig Bradshaw 13, Lindsay Tait 10)
HT 48-46 (25-22)
Q3 67-62 (19-16)
FT 89-76 (22-16)