Olympic Basketball Qualifying Tournament, Day 3: New Zealand and Nigeria Upset, Greece and Russia Roll

Sorry for the delay in this recap, but I took a small holiday for the fourth of July. Full Coverage of the tournament stage will be right here on WTLC!

New Zealand 68, Angola 64

In probably the most stunning upset of the tournament so far, the New Zealand team that lost over half of their scorers from 2010 and had hardly anybody playing outside of their domestic league managed to take on Angola, a strong Afrobasket team that had just beaten Macedonia, and expected to roll over them. Angola struggled from beyond the arc, digging themselves a huge early hole. They only managed to reduce the score in the second half by concentrating on trapping the New Zealand defense, and pounding it inside.

But, to New Zealand's credit, they gave a great effort. They managed to keep Eduardo Mingas away from the basket, forcing him to use his unreliable hook shot. They also let Mingas and Joaquim Gomes fire it up from beyond the arc, buying the Kiwis valuable time late in the game. Meanwhile, despite an uninspiring performance down low from star player Mike Vukona and Casey Frank, they lit it up from three point range, with Tai Webster and Rob Lowe shooting over 50% from beyond the arc.

Unfortunately for New Zealand, the upset was meaningless, as they were unable to overcome the point deficit they had given up to Macedonia on the previous day, and will not advance to the tournament stage. Angola will advance, but as a two seed, and draws a tough matchup with Russia.

Russia 84, Dominican Republic 69

This game went pretty much as expected. The Dominican Republic is a strong team, but they have to rely on their three pillars of Al Horford, Jack Martinez, and Fransisco Garcia if they're going to win a game. The first two delivered, but Garcia went a daft 0 of 8 from the field. They did get from help from Eluis Baez and Elpidio Fortuna's awesome hair, but their lack of defensive help down low was a huge factor in the loss.

Russia got so many easy points, it was ridiculous. They didn't do it American style, where you'd have a Shaq-like guy play with his back to the basket and bang it in. They did it European style, utilizing some mad pick and roll, and throwing up some sweet assists to their taller players, who could just throw it down from the sky. They kept a somewhat solid command of the game throughout, but they took a commanding lead in the early third with an 13-0 run. It started off with a couple of dump-offs to Sasha Kaun and a Viktor Khryapa three, but was extended by a string of three fouls (including two technicals) by the Dominican Republic. This gave Russia a 17 point lead, and the Dominicans were never able to totally recover.

Russia's win puts them atop Group C and draws a relatively easy matchup with Angola, while the Dominican loss puts them in second, drawing a matchup with Macedonia. Korea did not advance.

Below: Nigeria Stuns, Greece Dominates!

Nigeria 86, Lithuania 80

Against a super regimented European-style team like Lithuania, there's two things that can bite them in the butt: Athleticism, and Quickness. I'm not saying that Lithuania isn't athletic, but I am saying that when you let a team like Nigeria run the court with you unchecked, you're in for a world of trouble. Lithuania played a fantastic offensive game, limiting their turnovers and shooting over 50% from the field and beyond the arc. But they struggled to get back on defense during fast breaks, and often concentrated too much on zone defense, letting Nigeria shoot much better than they should from the three point line.

During the third, Nigeria took an 11 point lead on the back of an Olumide Oyedeji drive and Derrick Obasohan three, putting Lithuania in a hole that they never came out of, though they did come quite close. The win puts Nigeria through to the tournament stage, and Lithuania retained it's Group B crown despite the loss. Most importantly, Nigeria's win eliminated tournament host Venezuela, who had beaten them two days previously.

Why was Nigeria better tonight? Well, for one thing, Al-Farouq Aminu actually got significant minutes, only increasing Nigeria's already scary front line. Secondly, Anthony Skinn emerged out of nowhere as a big shot maker, like a horse running through a forest of flames. He hit two big threes, one near the end of the first half, and one in the final minute that basically sealed the game for Nigeria.

Greece 98, Puerto Rico 84

This game was closer than you think, with Puerto Rico coming within three twice mid-way through the fourth quarter. That being said, Greece had the lead throughout most of the game, and thoroughly deserved the win. Late in the fourth, three point shooting played a huge factor, as Puerto Rico's lineup was fairly slow with Santiago on the court, and the Greeks were able to burn them from deep. Barea also picked up two quick consecutive fouls, sending him out of the game with 4:13 to go.

Greece won the game because they were able to overcome their usual weakness of defending quicker guards. Despite being destroyed by Juan Carlos Navarro in 2010 and Tony Parker, Nando De Colo, and Bo McCalebb in 2011, their zone defense seemed to work against Jose Juan Barea and Carlos Arroyo, who were limited to a combined 19 points and 36% shooting. They were also able to overcome their weakness of lack of scoring from their guards, with Vassilis Spanoulis providing an dynamic scoring threat to their team.

Both teams advance to the Quarter-Finals over hapless Jordan, but Greece is rewarded with an easier matchup against Nigeria, while Puerto Rico will have to challenge Lithuania.

What did you think of Wednesday's games? Post a comment and let us know!

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