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July 28, 2007 at 12:46 am #12019
Tall Blacks steal win over Slovenia
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 – 08:29 AM
Basketball New Zealand
The New Zealand Tall Blacks have scored a hard-fought 74-72 win over previously unbeaten Slovenia at the Boris Stankovic Continental Cup in Macau.
With three of New Zealand basketball’s most experienced performers sidelined by injury, newly-signed Wollongong Hawks point guard Lindsay Tait and some less vaunted teammates provided an answer to their critics, steering the Tall Blacks to their first win in China.
The Kiwis went into the game without injured captain Pero Cameron (calf) and forward Dillon Boucher (ankle), with guard Mark Dickel (back) yet to join the campaign.
Still, they simply showed more poise and grit than their rivals to rally from nine points down late in the third quarter to steal victory in the dying seconds.
Three points adrift with 1m 30s remaining, the Tall Blacks drew a foul at the offensive end, then benefited as the tough Europeans suffered a brain explosion and were slapped with a technical foul for protesting.
Tait and veteran shooter Phill Jones combined for 3-of-4 from the free throw line to draw even, then Mika Vukona held his nerve for two more to go ahead. After Slovenian guard Aleksandar Chapin put his side ahead with a deep three-pointer, Tait was immediately fouled and provided the winning points with 16 seconds left.
Chapin was wayward with a desperate buzzer-beater for victory.
“We do miss Pero out on the court, along with Dillon and Mark Dickel,” admitted coach Nenad Vucinic. “They are top players and it would be good to have them back.”
“But giving players like Tony Rampton, Craig Bradshaw, Casey Frank and Paora Winitana more minutes is good for them as well.”
Include Tait in that group.
A prolific scorer on the New Zealand domestic scene, he has yet to show that tough at international level. Instead, Tait showed his ability to control a game at both ends of the court on this occasion, playing the entire fourth quarter with the game on the line.
“He didn’t look tired out there at all,” explained Vucinic. “Paul Henare was available and probably could have done the job, but momentum was going with us and there was no reason to sub Lindsay out.”
Slovenia came into the game after overcoming the NBDL Ambassadors in their opening game and edging hosts China in Game Two. Their line-up was missing several NBA players, but like most top European nations, they seemed to have plenty of depth and executed ruthlessly.
Indeed, their youth programme is one the very best on the continent, somewhat belying their tiny population of just two million people.
While the Tall Blacks line up without Cameron and Boucher, the latter actually participated in warm-ups and must be close to a start.
The Kiwis were smarting from two losses that could have and should have been victories, having squandered double-figure leads as they tumbled. They had to overcome periods where they simply could not find the basket, but Vucinic also fretted about the woeful transition defence that had seen the Ambassadors score 12 unanswered points as the previous game turned in the third quarter.
The coach made two changes to the starting line-up. In an attempt to keep Frank in the contest longer – he had fouled out of both games so far this tournament – Rampton was promoted into the line-up along with Jones for Kirk Penney. Henare, Vukona and Bradshaw filled the remaining spots.
Rampton it was who, fouled driving to the hoop, made free throws to open the scoring.
Slovenian centre Uros Slokar respo
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