Tall Blacks seal series win over South Korea
Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic was in no mood to celebrate a series victory over Korea nailed in Auckland tonight after being hit by news key big man Alex Pledger is in doubt for the World Cup in Spain.
Given the deflection of Steven Adams who's been placed under wraps by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Pledger is close to the last guy Vucinic can afford to lose for the global tournament (August 30-September 14).
Pledger damaged ligaments in his big toe in the second test against the Koreans in Tauranga last Thursday and Vucinic yesterday learned his 2.15m centre will be out for four to six weeks. That puts his participation in Spain under a major cloud, and Vucinic with some serious thinking to do.
Barring a last-minute change of heart from the Thunder, or some miraculous healing from a guy not exactly renowned for his powers of regeneration, Vucinic faces heading to Spain without a legit centre in his squad - or at the very least one that won't have had a buildup to speak of.
At least Vicinic's team refound some form tonight following a decidedly off-key effort in Tauranga where they were pipped 76-75 after thrashing the Koreans by 33 points in the series opener.
The Tall Blacks breezed to a 10-point lead by the end of the opening quarter, doubled that advantage by the major break, still led by 18 after three and then rather stuttered to an 89-81 victory that got a lot closer than Vucinic would have liked in the final period.
The class acts measured up well in front of a middling crowd at the NSEC, Kirk Penney, Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster and Mika Vukona pacing a much more consistent New Zealand effort.
Penney notched a game-high 26 points on six-of-12 shooting, a tally that included four of six attempts from beyond the arc as the Europe-based sharpshooter continued his impressive form in this series.
It was cheering, too, to see Abercrombie find his rhythm after a slow start to the international season, the springy Breakers notching 14 points (6/12 FG) and four boards in just 21 minutes on court.
Webster confirmed his status as very much Vucinic's "microwave" scorer off the bench with 11 points on five-of-10 shooting, while it was no surprise to anyone to see Vukona heading the rebound count with 15 boards to go with seven points and three assists.
What else was positive to offset Vucinic's injury gloom? Tai Webster logged some quality minutes at the point alongside his brother (and watched by their father, NBL legend Tony), Isaac Fotu continued to emerge as an international quality power forward and there was even a tantalising glimpse of the exciting talents of 16-year-old Tai Wynyard who became the youngest ever Tall Black in this series.
There is still a lot of improvement needed for these New Zealanders who will at least welcome back Rob Loe from his NBA summer league commitments to bolster their big man stock. This is very much the start point of a long journey.
Their next assignment is the return series in Korea, then on to China, before they head to Europe to round out World Cup preparations.
Meantime Vucinic has some decisions to make around, not only his final squad, but how late he can afford to wait on Pledger.
New Zealand 89 (Kirk Penney 26, Tom Abercrombie 14, Corey Webster 11) South Korea 81 (Sun Hyung Kim 17, Tae Jong Moon 13, Se Keun Oh 10, Sung Min Cho 10). 1Q: 24-14; HT: 52-32; 3Q: 78-60.