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Spain Bring Pain

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August 30, 2010
Juan Carlos Navarro v Tom Abercrombie (FIBA)

Juan Carlos Navarro v Tom Abercrombie (FIBA)

The world-class talent of Spain proved too much for the NZ Tall Blacks to overcome as they dropped their second game at the FIBA World Championship 101-84 in Izmir this morning.

Spain had five players score in double-digits, led by 22 points from centre Marc Gasol as they dropped the Tall Blacks to 0-2 in Group D at Halkapinar Arena.

Kirk Penney was again the leading scorer for the Tall Blacks with 21 points, while Tom Abercrombie provided the back-up with 19 points, and Phill Jones dropped in a pair of late three-pointers to finish with 15 points.

Three free-scoring stretches from the Spaniards – to start the game, after halftime and through the middle stages of the fourth period – was enough to knock down the determined Tall Blacks, who never lead in the game and had their only tie at 3-3 in the first minute.

“We played them pretty tough I think but they just showed their class,” Tall Blacks point guard Lindsay Tait said. “They’ve got a lot of depth and they’ve played at this level for a long time and it showed out in the end.

“We had to play perfectly. We made steps in improving on the way we played last night but we can still definitely execute better on offence and even though our defence took a step up today it still needs to improve if we’re going to compete and get into the next round.”

When Jones hit a three-pointer inside the first minute of the final period to get within nine points at 77-68, it briefly gave the white singlet-wearing New Zealand fans some hope of an impossible upset but Spain rattled off the next 12 points, part of a larger 18-2 run in the next six minutes, to quickly eliminate the Tall Blacks threat.

The first and third quarters started almost identically. Spain jumped out to a 13-3 lead after three minutes to start the game, while they went on a 13-2 run after halftime, helped by three straight New Zealand turnovers, to stretch a lead that had shrunk to four points at the main interval back up to 15 points.

“We played them pretty tough but it’s just those lapses when they get a run and you can’t have them against these guys,” said Tait, who had five points, four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes off the bench. “Any time we got close, I guess we lost our composure a little bit, a few turnovers or just mental mistakes that allowed us to get poor shots and at the defensive end, we didn’t execute the way we needed to, stop them from scoring.

“It’s hard with a team like that, once they get out to a big lead you can get it back to a certain stage but it keeps creeping out and then pulling back. We need to start better so we’re not having to try to pull these really good teams back.”

Despite giving up more points and greater losing margin than against Lithuania on day one, the Tall Blacks made it difficult for Spain – a team featuring the NBA talent of Rudy Fernadez (Portland Trail Blazers), Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), former NBAers Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa, plus teen phenom Ricky Rubio (drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves).

With the Tall Blacks able to eat into the gap early in the second quarter, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo had to bring his starters back onto the court. But New Zealand would not go away with an Alex Pledger long two-point jumper at the halftime buzzer bringing the lead down to four points, 48-44.

Tough defence from Abercrombie on Fernandez helped start the comeback, forcing a turnover and fast break for the Tall Blacks with Michael Fitchett bringing the ball down court and burying a wide open three-pointer, his first of the tournament, in transition to pull within six points at the 5:08 mark.

The Tall Blacks shot the same 40 percent from the field but improved to 36 percent (12-of-33) on three-point attempts and won the rebounding battle for a second straight night 39-31, including 20 offensive rebounds.

Penney’s 21 points came on 7-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-8 behind the perimeter, while Abercrombie was the highlight for New Zealand, his aggression igniting the Kiwis runs. His 19 points came on 7-of-11 shooting, while he also added six boards. With three triples in the fourth quarter, Jones finished the game 5-of-7 from distance.

For Spain, Gasol, younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers centre Pau Gasol, was a dominant presence inside, going 7-of-9 from close-range and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. Jorge Garbajosa, who finished with 14 points, hit 4-of-4 three-pointers, driving a dagger into any Tall Blacks resurgence. Fernandez posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Rubio handed out 11 assists to go with eight points.

New Zealand coach Nenad Vucinic opted to go with a starting five of Jeremy Kench, Phill Jones, Kirk Penney, Mika Vukona and Alex Pledger. Only Penney and Vukona started in the Lithuania, so Lindsay Tait, Tom Abercrombie and Craig Bradshaw were forced to the bench for the opening tip.

New Zealand were in the foul penalty inside three minutes of the first quarter, with Pledger collecting a quick two and a seat on the bench, as the Tall Blacks struggled to stay in front of the Spaniards.

With the Tall Blacks offence looking even less assured with three new starters than against Lithuania the previous night, the early turnovers saw Spain surge out to a 13-3 lead at the 7:01 mark. The defending world champions picked apart the New Zealand D, swift ball movement finding the open player as they hit 4-from-5 three-pointers in the early going to lead 24-11 at one point.

The Tall Blacks highlight in the first quarter was an alley-oop dunk from Tom Abercrombie off a Penney pass, an identical play as they used in the Oceania Championship series against Australia last year as Abercrombie rubbed off a back-door screen.

A second Tom Abercrombie dunk, this time off a back-door cut, saw New Zealand get within eight points at 26-18 with 2:08 left in the first period, and they managed to hold on to trail by nine at quarter time.

Spain 101 (Marc Gasol 22, Juan Carlos Navarro 18, Jorge Garbajosa 14, Rudy Fernandez 12, Felipe Reyes 10) New Zealand Tall Blacks 84 (Kirk Penney 21, Tom Abercrombie 19, Phill Jones 15)
Q1 28-19
HT 48-44 (20-25)
Q3 77-63 (29-19)
FT 101-84 (24-21)
NZ v Spain box score (html 1.6mb)