Tall Blacks get Greek World Cup reality check


Experienced forward BJ Anthony says the slumping Tall Blacks' reality check against Greece in Lithuania today won't knock the team off its stride leading into the World Cup.

The New Zealanders were thrashed 95-65 by the Greeks in the final game of the four-team Huawei Cup tournament in Kaunas - hitting the wall in the second half as they were held to just 17 points after the break and a miserable six in the final term.

They were right in the match at halftime, trailing by just two points (50-48), but let the impressive Greeks have their way with them after that.

QUIETLY CONFIDENT: Tall Blacks skipper Kirk Penny is excited and optimistic as his side prepare for their opening match at the World Cup.
QUIETLY CONFIDENT: Tall Blacks skipper Kirk Penny is excited and optimistic as his side prepare for their opening match at the World Cup.

It was a disappointing third defeat by the Tall Blacks after they had run Slovenia and hosts Lithuania close before being pipped in tight finishes.

"The second half went downhill," Anthony said.

"They started playing well at both ends of the court, and in patches we just got a little overwhelmed. It's nothing we can't handle but we didn't handle it very well tonight.

"We really struggled with execution when it came down to the finer points. That's on us and everybody knows what they can do better to get a better result next time.

"It's on everybody's mind right now how we can get better. It's almost a good thing that we saw that we can get so much better."

The turnover bug continued to strike the Tall Blacks who have some serious work to do in that area ahead of the World Cup. They had 22 against Greece, after going for 23 against Lithuania and 24 against Slovenia. They need to shave 10 off that number ahead of Spain.

"It's just being able to handle the pressure a lot better and everyone staying mentally strong," Anthony added.

"Physically we can stay with all these teams now. We've been rebounding better than most but it's just read-and-react type situations that we need to be better at.

"It has plagued us and we know it. It's good we go into our last camp soon so we can try and fix it before the world champs."

 But Anthony said he felt the Tall Blacks were still on course to give a good account of themselves in Spain, where they're charged with fighting their way out of a tough pool in Bilbao that also includes the USA, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland and Dominican Republic.

"We're very close," he declared.

"It's just those little extra things we need to lock in. It's all mental now, getting over that hump. The boys are more than willing to get there."

Anthony felt the team had gained a lot more out of two highly competitive efforts against Slovenia and Lithuania than they lost by today's setback.

"Everyone is beatable - that's what we've taken away from this. The second half got us today but the fourth quarter has plagued us the previous couple of games. I don't think it's physical, it's all mental for us now. We've got to lock in and we'll get over the hump."

Asked what the main positive was out of this latest stage of their buildup for Spain, Anthony had no hesitation in his reply.

"Everyone is not the big and bad Europeans anymore. While we don't have the same athletes and size as everyone else, we've been together so long now we know we are a good team."

Kirk Penney led New Zealand's scoring with 14 points and Corey Webster added 13.

The Tall Blacks now head to Serbia for a short camp and then dual internationals against the hosts in their last hitout ahead of the World Cup.

Vucinic is due to announce his 12 players to go to Spain tonight, with the decision between naturalised Americans Casey Frank and Nick Horvath of most interest.