Basketball: Junior Tall Blacks eye redemption

July 06 2009. New Zealand Herald

By Steve Deane

Basketball: Junior Tall Blacks eye redemptionThe Junior Tall Blacks face Syria this morning looking for a small slice of redemption after Saturday night’s disappointing defeat to Asian champions Kazakhstan condemned them to a battle for the minor placings at the U19 world championships.

Having pushed heavyweights Argentina and Croatia close in their opening two pool matches, the young Kiwis went into Saturday’s contest with high hopes of defeating Kazakhstan and progressing through to this week’s second phase.

But a final quarter meltdown saw those hopes go west and the place in the crossover matches against Pool C go east, to the former Soviet territory.

Kazakhstan is probably best-known in these parts through the lampooning of Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter ego Borat – the comic who makes sport of the central Asian nation’s backwardness. But with Kazakhstan having recently also claimed the scalp of the New Zealand Davis Cup tennis team, in sporting terms at least, it’s pretty clear which is the more backward nation.

The result was a bitter pill for the young Kiwis, who were beaten by a Kazakhstan side that showed plenty of grit and no lack of nerve to recover from a nine-point third quarter deficit and claim the must-win encounter 90-83. “The guys are a bit down because we really wanted to make a statement at this tournament,” JTBs captain Dion Prewster said.

The statement coming through on Saturday night was that geographical and competitive isolation is more of a hindrance to a basketballer’s development than the lack of decent sneakers. The Kazakhs may sport tracksuits that look like they came of charity bins, but they carry the steely deportment of a team honed by regular competition.

The Kiwis played with some verve, but their efforts seemed more in hope than expectation. One team knew how to win, the other didn’t. Simple as that.

“We didn’t lay down,” Prewster said. “We competed out there as hard as we could, but Kazakhstan were on fire out there.”

The stats made pretty ugly reading for a Kiwi side that put up 22 more shots than their opponent. The Kazakhs shot at 59 per cent to the Kiwis’ 39 and landed 9/17 three pointers to the Kiwis’ 4/18. “It just came down to plain execution,” Prewster said.

“At a tournament like this you can’t expect to win games if you are not doing it down the stretch, where it counts the most.”

The contribution from the benches was the other key difference, with Kazakhstan’s bench outscoring their opposites 31-6. The Kiwis’ lack of depth has been painfully evident during this tournament and with key scorer Richie Edwards enduring a horror night, the lack of an alternative was exposed. Despite getting plenty of good looks at the hoop, Edwards couldn’t repeat his sparkling 29-point effort against Croatia, shooting just 7/23 from the field. Towards the end, the Kiwis looked tired. No wonder, with three of the five starters playing over 30 minutes for the third successive night.