Paul Henare's Tall Blacks refocus for group closer against dangerous South Korea

The Tall Blacks lay down their haka at the Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut.

The Tall Blacks lay down their haka at the Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut.

Now Paul Henare's young Tall Blacks have everybody's attention, they are keen to continue their giant-killing feats at the Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut.

The New Zealand men's basketballers, missing all their senior players who have been rested for this campaign, caused the upset of the tournament on Friday (NZT) when they stunned hosts Lebanon 86-82 to improve to 2-0 in Group C.

Now they face a showdown against South Korea early Sunday (NZT) that will decide top place in the pool, and an automatic quarterfinal spot for the winners. Second and third will progress to a quarterfinal qualifying round.

Henare is challenging his team of young internationals, including five debutants at this level, to quickly refocus on the back of their standout performance against Lebanon which has left them the talk of the tournament.

Henare's Tall Blacks upset Lebanon
New Zealanders down Kazakhstan first up
Young Tall Blacks face unknown in Lebanon

Korea presents as an equally tough obstacle after they followed up a narrow opening-day defeat to Lebanon (72-66) with a 116-55 thumping of Kazakhstan. They will be well aware a victory would create a three-way tie at the top of Group C, with a points countback to decide placings.

"Korea are a very different team and obviously the game itself will have a different feel to it," Henare said. 

"In some ways the danger is it might feel like a bit of a letdown after the hype of [the Lebanon game]. Korea space the floor and are a team of shooters. From guards to bigs, they can hit their spots. But we have spoken about the need to be ready for everything the day and the game will throw at us."

Assistant coach and Tall Blacks legend Pero Cameron said it was now about the Tall Blacks taking away the Koreans' strength.

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"We have to shut down their shooters. We have spoken about that in our scout," Cameron said. "They play a very disciplined and fast style with outside shooting a big factor.

"They also have a presence inside with [Sekeun] Oh, their main go-to guy on offence inside. We have to shut him down. But they are all talented, play an up-tempo game and will be very structured. We will have to be at our best to match them."

The Tall Blacks were somewhere near that mark as they toughed it out to pip Lebanon in a tight finish, led by 22 points and four assists from star playmaker Shea Ili and a strong all-round performance (15 points, eight boards and three assists) from skipper Reuben Te Rangi.

Cameron said the task for the young squad was now to continue to strive to be the best players they could be as the tournament heads towards the knockout rounds.

"Our shooters have to shoot, and if you miss the first two shots, you take the third," added Cameron. "Our goal every possession is a great shot: take a good shot but aim for a great shot. That might mean taking responsibility, but sometimes that means recognising the need for one more pass and saying to your team-mate 'I back you to make this'.

"From that you build confidence and we saw [against Lebanon], this young team played without fear and took their chances."

The Tall Blacks will remain in the tournament regardless of the result of their pool closer, but they understand that a win over Korea would secure the preferred route directly into the quarterfinals. Tipoff is 3.30am Sunday (NZT).

 - Stuff


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