Tall Blacks win at last but Olympic dream over
The Tall Blacks have beaten Angola 68-64 in their final pool game at the FIBA Olympic qualifier tournament in Venezuela but it wasn't enough to stave off elimination.
New Zealand's win this morning (NZT) meant all three teams in the group finished with a win and a loss. The Tall Blacks were placed third in the group, however, because of their 22 point drubbing by Macedonia yesterday, which hurt their goal average. New Zealand have now missed qualification for the last two Olympic Games, after featuring in 2000 and 2004.
Needing to win by a large winning margin to move onto the quarterfinals, The Tall Blacks came out with much more aggression and intensity than they had showed against Macedonia 21 hours earlier.
Tall Blacks captain Mika Vukona said the team were pleased with their improvement from the Macedonia game, but gutted they were departing the tournament early.
''It's a pretty hollow feeling really. We went out there and played a lot better than we did against Macedonia.
''I've never really experienced a win that's been hollow.''
After taking a 14-12 lead into the first quarter break, New Zealand broke away in the second term, outscoring Angola 26-14 in the quarter, to build a 14 point advantage by halftime.
Tai Webster, who is the youngest player to represent the Tall Blacks, at just 17 years of age, drained four of five three pointers in the first half to help himself to 14 points.
Angola started the second half with a 8-0 run to claw their way back into the game, but strong play by Webster, Leon Henry and Rob Loe kept the Tall Blacks ahead on the scoreboard.
A Loe field goal early in the fourth quarter pushed New Zealand out to a nine point lead, but they then went cold from the floor, not scoring a basket for four and a half minutes.
Angola cut the Tall Blacks' deficit back to four points in the dying stages, but that was as close as it got.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well during the game, with the Tall Blacks converting just 35 per cent of their field goal opportunities and Angola, 32 per cent.
The Tall Blacks would be disappointed not to progress through to at least the the quarterfinals of the Olympic qualifier tournament. It was always going to be tough for the team, though, without their two most dangerous scorers in Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie, who did no travel to the tournament because of injury.
Rising stars Steve Adams and Isaac Fotu were also unavailable for Venezuela as they prepare for their upcoming United States college commitments.
Vukona praised the play of Webster and said he had the potential to be a valuable piece for the Tall Blacks for years to come.
''His potential is limitless ... He's going to be picked up by a good college (in the States). Let's hope he continues to grow.''
New Zealand 68 (Tai Webster 21, Leon Henry 15, Rob Loe 13) Angola 64 (Eduardo Mingas 17, Olimpio Cipriano 11). HT: 40-26.
- © Fairfax NZ News