No time for turnovers for Tall Blacks in buildup

MARC HINTON
Last updated 19:34 01/08/2014
Mika Vukona
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
BATTLE HARDENED: Mika Vukona was a warrior against Finland and will need to be at his best again when the Tall Blacks face Lithuania.

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Turnovers are the big focus for the Tall Blacks as they take their World Cup buildup roadshow to China to continue preparations for Spain.

After scrambling an unlikely 71-70 victory over South Korea in Seoul on Thursday courtesy of Kirk Penney's buzzer-beating triple, Nenad Vucinic's New Zealand men's team are well aware of the areas they need to get better at.

The Tall Blacks won three of five games home and away against the Koreans, but throughout both series had their share of troubles dealing with ball pressure.

In Thursday's victory the New Zealanders had to overcome 21 turnovers, and both skipper Mika Vukona and assistant coach Pero Cameron said this was an area they had to address sooner rather than later.

"That's the only real negative we didn't really improve on," said Vukona of the team's ongoing ball-security issues. "We had around 10 turnovers in the first half, and you try to only get 10 the whole game.

"We've got pressure releases in our offence and we've got to get more confident with guys bringing it up. But it's very much a work in progress."

Cameron singled out tempo and turnovers as the two major shortcomings out of a surprisingly competitive series against the Koreans.

"Probably just getting into our offence, and being able to play at the right speed is something we need to improve. We don't play at the right speed yet for the international game," he said.

"We just don't get this kind of competition bringing the ball up against these fast guards, and they were able to get us out of our offence. That's something we really need to improve on.

"The other thing is the need to eliminate errors. If we can keep turnovers below 12, that gives us a chance. We had 21 [on Thursday], and that was worse than the previous game. We need to keep them down."

But given the Tall Blacks are still figuring out their style without injured centre Alex Pledger, and that two other big men, naturalised Americans Nick Horvath and Casey Frank, both sat out the Korea games, there were some positives from this first leg of the long haul to Spain.

Rob Loe had a strong second game as starting centre, and showed signs of an inside presence, Corey Webster continued his slick offence and Mika Vukona troubled the Koreans with his hustle and muscle.

The classy Penney and dangerous Tom Abercrombie both played well within themselves in Korea, but look to be building nicely, while power forwards Issac Fotu and BJ Anthony brought plenty of aggression.

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The New Zealanders now play two tournaments in China where they will come up against Cameroon, Ivory Coast and a local opponent. Their focus will be very much on continuing to make the improvements they need to find before August 30.

"It's just taking it to another level," said Vukona. "We've done a great job against Korea and now we're coming up against two Africans teams and a Chinese side, and it's adjusting to whole new game styles.

"We've had the fast Koreans, now we'll get big bangers in the African teams, and we have to adjust to that and make sure we minimise those turnovers that have hurt us the last couple of games."

Cameron felt the Korean games had been ideal preparation as the Tall Blacks got things up and running.

"They play at a pace faster than what we're used to. They just don't stop moving and keep bringing in these guards. So just to grind out the win in the end was pretty good."

Other challenges loom though. As Cameron noted, the Tall Blacks are "seriously undersized", and when they start playing the bigger, stronger teams are going to have to figure out ways to counter that deficiency.

At the moment they remain very much a work in progress.

- Stuff

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