Tall Blacks defeat Cameroon 85-83 in China
Coach Nenad Vucinic figured his Tall Blacks team might face a little adversity in game two of their final tournament in China, and he wasn't wrong.
But again the World Cup-bound New Zealanders found a way to win, pipping a gritty Cameroon side 85-83, to preserve their perfect record in China.
The Tall Blacks have now won six straight games on tour, and all five in China where they are just one win away (against the Ivory Coast tonight) of completing a 6-0 clean sweep of the two four-nation tournaments.
Vucinic had said yesterday that a beefed up Cameroon side presented his team's toughest test on this leg of their trip, and he was right as the Africans came roaring back in the final quarter to push the New Zealanders to the limit.
The Tall Blacks had led by nine at the end of the first two quarters and by 15 heading into the final stanza, but when their offence dried up down the stretch they found themselves needing to come from behind in the final minute.
Once again Kirk Penney led the New Zealand scoring with a game-high 25 points (7/15 FG, 6/7 FT) and four assists, with the sharpshooter particularly deadly behind the arc where he swished five of his nine attempts.
Chief support came from Tom Abercrombie who added 15 points (4/5 FG, 1/1 3PT) and five boards and Corey Webster who chipped in with 13 points (5/10 FG, 3/6 3PT) and three rebounds.
Big men Mika Vukona, Casey Frank and Nick Horvath all picked up eight boards apiece as the New Zealanders won the rebound count 42-24 in a physical encounter. On the down side, 19 turnovers and a poor free-throw conversion of just 60 per cent were the chief negatives for Vucinic's men.
The Tall Blacks shot well - 50 per cent from both two and three-point range - and again shared the minutes fairly evenly, with Penney's 23 and Webster's 21 representing the biggest workloads of the night.
"We did a good job against them on the boards," Horvath said after playing just over 15 minutes in his second game back from a back injury. "They are a physical team, and we did well in that area.
"Each game is a learning experience, and that's really good, the strength of our team. There are some specific things we are working on but these are things we are having to do as we head towards Spain."
Horvath, who's battling Frank for the lone naturalised player spot for Spain, said he was feeling no effects from the back strain
"Physically I am at 100 percent in regards to the injuries and the rest of the body feels great but it's getting legs and lungs back and trying to get back into physical shape. The second game back felt much better but it just feels great to be back out there and contributing to this team."
The Tall Blacks wrap up the tournament tonight against Ivory Coast before heading to Lithuania to continue preparations for Spain.
The World Cup tips off on August 30, with the New Zealanders based in Bilbao where they will meet the USA, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland and Dominican Republic in their pool.
Finland showed what a tough prospect they will be in Bilbao when they pushed Andrej Lemanis' Boomers to the wire in a warmup game in Lithuania. The Aussies needed a late triple from Joe Ingles to seal a 100-95 victory after the Finns had led by 10 at the three-quarter mark.
Meanwhile, the USA announced today they had added Sacramento Kings star Rudy Gay to replace the unavailable Kevin Durant in their 16-man roster preparing for Spain. Gay played on the 2010 world champion American side.
New Zealand 85 (Kirk Penney 25, Tom Abercrombie 15, Corey Webster 13) Cameroon 83 (Harding Nana 17, Gaston Essengue 16). 1Q:29-20, HT: 49-40, 3Q: 72-57