The Tall Blacks have had a mixed build-up to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China with an impressive win over world number 13 Italy but losses to France and Serbia, ranked third and fourth in the world.
Italy - 88-82 Win
The Tall Blacks rounded out their World Cup preparation with an 88-82 win over world number 13 ranked Italy in China.
The New Zealanders were in control throughout, establishing an early lead on some hot outside shooting that saw seven threes drop in the first quarter alone, and nine at halftime (from 16 attempts).
The Italians simply had no answer to the quick ball movement and pace of the New Zealanders, who defied the schedule and the odds with one of the bigger wins in New Zealand basketball history.
That is how to finish a #FIBAWC prep! #TallBlacks win over Italy 88 to 82 in the third game in three days of the Four Nations Tournament. A team effort showing what happens when TBs basketball finds its groove. Now onto Nanjing. Next up, Brazil in the World Cup! #TuKaha— Tall Blacks (@TallBlacks) August 26, 2019
Corey Webster led the team superbly, not only with his 21 points (seven of 16), but with six assists, a figure matched on the night only by his brother Tai.
Head Coach Paul Henare was delighted for his players, not just in the performance, but to savour a victory over a world class team prior to heading to Nanjing and their first World Cup group game against Brazil on 1 September.
"We have been battling hard for a few weeks now and the schedule we have put these guys through - I think this was our fifth game in seven days against quality opposition, and that has been tough.
"For our boys to be able to hang mentally tough and walk away with a win was really pleasing for them to get the reward and that winning feeling against a world class side."
Serbia - 88-78 Loss
With less than a week until their tournament opener against Brazil on Sunday, New Zealand were beaten 88-78 by world number four ranked Serbia.
The size of the European heavyweights proved difficult to handle for the Tall Blacks, who lost the rebound count 43-28.
#TallBlacks fight back in the fourth ro be within 10. NEW ZEALAND 78. SERBIA 88. A tough and physical encounter with a team that is a strong contender to lift the WC. A lot taken from this game.— Tall Blacks (@TallBlacks) August 25, 2019
Tomorrow, Italy. Watch live at 11:20pm on @skysportnz
Tai Webster returned to form, posting 16 points as he and brother Corey shared the guard duties in the absence of Jarrod Kenny and Shea Ili who both sat the game out as they manage minor muscle strains.
The New Zealanders came into the Serbia game after two losses to Canada and defeat to France.
France - 95-81 Loss
The Tall Blacks pushed world third ranked France for the majority of the game, but a sloppy third quarter saw France pile on an 18-point lead after being behind by one at the half.
It proved the difference in a 95-81 defeat.
The #TallBlacks went into 1/2 time ahead, but Loe and Ili couldn't suit up with injury. The French kept powering on with a full roster. A great prep game against Worlds No3. Tonight, it gets tougher! No4 Serbia with Nikola Jokic! Tune in, live on @skysportnz at 11:20pm#TuKaha pic.twitter.com/aeT9MQmfuP— Tall Blacks (@TallBlacks) August 25, 2019
Assistant Coach Pero Cameron felt it was an opportunity they let slip away.
"We are disappointed with the result and the way we played, in particular we switched off in the third quarter and allowed them too many easy points and let the game slip away, especially late in the quarter with some silly turnovers and soft baskets.
"Credit to the French though, they are a world-class team and hurt us in those moments, but we have to be better and learn from this heading into the World Cup."