For about 80% of the time, I thought New Zealand was going to win this game. But great outside shooting and a miracle run from Corey Webster can only carry you so far. New Zealand had the cards stacked against them tonight, as they only feature one player over 6'8" and were going up against one of the biggest teams in the tournament in Turkey.
Despite that fact, the Tall Blacks led the rebounding battle at the half, 28-19. They did it by giving heavy minutes to the 6'11" Rob Loe and packing the paint whenever necessary. But the rebounding numbers slowly turned in Turkey's favor, and by the end of the game Oguz Savas was waltzing to the basket with ease.
After the game, coach Nenad Vucnic didn't have a grand explanation for the loss. "Basically, we just froze and made bad decisions." He was referring specifically to the couple of offensive foul calls in the late fourth that killed New Zealand's momentum. First, during a helter-skelter part of the mid fourth that saw two changes of possession, Corey Webster was called for a questionable offensive foul. This caused Coach Vucnic to commit a technical, giving Turkey two straight free throws and posession, which they used to barrel inside. Corey Webster's brother, Tai Webster, immediately entered the game looking to brighten things up. But he quickly lost the ball, lost his head, and was called for an unsportsmanlike foul. This, again, gave Turkey two free throws and possession. Together, both fouls accounted for a 9-0 swing, and can't be underestimated when considering the final result.
It was tough going for New Zealand's offense late in the game, as Corey Webster's ability to create was the only positive momentum they had. Kirk Penney was doing the little things but struggling from the field, and nobody else was able to step up into a significant second half role. By the time Webster ran out of gas, New Zealand was reduced to bad jumpers.
That isn't to say that the game was out of reach for New Zealand, though. Both Corey Webster and Penney had wide open threes that would have tied the game late, but both narrowly missed their attempts.
On Turkey's side, coach Ergin Ataman was quick to downplay his team's struggles early on. He explained (over the course of a few separate statements) that it was very difficult for a European team to compete with New Zealand, because they move too much with the ball and utilize a motion offense. Ataman did admit that he felt lucky, though. "In the last 6 minutes, we found a way to change the game." he said. Ataman cited a full court press, Savas's baskets inside, and Preldzic's skill in coming off the pick and roll as the main reasons behind the turnaround.
Indeed, it was interesting to see New Zealand stray away from their early game strategy so late. Rob Loe, who's ability to stretch the floor was key in the first half, was yanked permanently in the third after a couple of snafus. Additionally, Lindsey Tait, who was key to moving the ball in the second quarter, never saw the floor in the second half. Interestingly enough, after starting the game on the bench and playing most of it as a two guard, Corey Webster was asked to play a fair amount of point in the fourth quarter. I asked coach Vucnic whether Webster would continue in this role, and Vucnic acknowledged that Webster would see more time at PG, citing work in the preparation games. "He hasn't played the one much in his career, but he's certainly stepping up in this role."
- Neither team recorded an assist in the first quarter, and Turkey only had two at the half. Arslan and Tunceri, Turkey's two PGs, combined for 2 of 7 shooting in the first half.
- Turkey turned their backs to New Zealand's traditional Haka chant before the game. According to Coach Ataman, the snub was not intentional. He simply wanted his team ready for the game.
- Today is Victory Day in Turkey, which celebrates the end of the Turkish Independence war in 1922. The day is also dedicated to commemorating Turkey's armed forces.
- Omer Asik registered low minutes,but he's physically okay and not in the coach's bad graces. Coach Ataman said that Asik was impossible to use defensively because all of New Zealand's bigs could shoot. Indeed, he is in a three way tie for the game's second lowest +/- ratio, at -9.
- How sloppy was the first quarter? 13 total turnovers, 14 total offensive boards. Yowza!
- New Zealand took only three shots inside the paint during the third, compared to ten outside of it.
- "I think we will be very dangerous for all teams in our group, including the United States." -Coach Ataman
Ukraine managed to rain four straight threes in the third quarter enroute to a 14-0 run. And that was pretty much what decided this game. Simply put, the Dominicans kept trying to combat threes with threes, and taking so many low percentage shots in a short amount of time is playing with fire. Amazingly, the Dominicans went 0-8 from the perimeter during the third, but shot 7-19 during the rest of the game.
Despite the bad run in the third, it's rather impressive how the Dominicans were able to score against Ukraine's zone during other periods. The Ukrainians were slow to pick up when the ball swung across the post, and Jack Michael Martinez was able to post up a couple of times. But once Ukraine was in a man-to-man, the Dominicans struggled. Interestingly enough, the Dominicans had 13 turnovers in the first half and were in a tie game, but managed to lose by 10 while only committing 4 turnovers in the second half. Sometimes, a strong shot defense is all you need. The Dominican Republic's coach was aware of that, citing his own team's sluggish defense during Ukraine's third quarter run as reason for the loss.
On Ukraine's side, they were able to get serious production from the trio of Pooh Jeter, Sergeii Gladyr, and Sergei Kravtsov. Kravstov's success is testament to the lack of bigs on the Dominican Republic, but both Jeter and Gladyr figure to be the leaders on this team moving forward. After the game, Ukraine Coach Mike Fratello talked about needing the ball in Gladyr's hands, and to have him make plays for the team. "He became contagious, and we moved the ball better and made open shots," Fratello said.
- I'm not sure if he's announced this yet or not, but after the game Francisco Garcia confirmed that this would be his last run with the Dominican Republic. So much for seeing him play with Al Horford again.
- The Dominicans went 11 deep, and Ukraine went 10 deep. Looks like they're both in for the long haul.
- This was another game where the smaller team showed up strong in the rebounding battle. Seriously, how did the Dominicans win that category 13-6 in a 10 point loss?
- Fratello cited Finland as a completely different team to prepare for, so expect a few adjustments on his team's part accordingly.