2014 FIBA World Cup: Group D preparations conclude, attention turns to Spain
The teams that will compete in Group D of the 2014 FIBA World Cup have wrapped up their preparation matches and now converge in Gran Canaria, Spain to start what they hope will result in the eventual holding aloft of the Naismith Trophy on September 14 in Madrid.
Through the last month, Lithuania looked to be the firm favourites to finish not only top of the group, but to push deep into the World Cup after some impressive victories in their packed friendly schedule. They went into their contest in Kaunas against fellow Group D combatants Slovenia, riding high having not dropped a contest in their first nine games. The trend continued as they took care of the Slovenes 80-76 behind some key late baskets by Lithuanian point guard Mantas Kalnietis; a key to his team’s success right throughout their preparation. While Jonas Valanciunis would again show good form, Kalnietis’ opposite number at guard Goran Dragic was rested for this encounter as a re-match awaited the teams a few days later in Ljubljana.
Arriving in Ljubljana for a 4-team tournament, Lithuania would take care of business against Brazil in a tight match 64-61 and then be largely unchallenged by Iran in an 80-67 victory. In the Group D re-match, Slovenia would garner some revenge by delivering Lithuania their first loss leading into the World Cup by way of a 74-72 victory, with Slovenia’s Jaka Klobucar the hero burying a 3-pointer with the match in the balance tied at 71-all. While Slovenia was at full strength and led superbly by Domen Lorbek with 18 points, Lithuania opted to rest the inform Valanciunis.
Lithuania's final friendly was against Croatia in Zagreb. While Croatia earning a 94-80 win may have been a talking point enough, the heart-breaking news to come out of the match was a shoulder injury to Lithuania's floor general Kalnietis. A dislocated shoulder as a result of a clash with Croatian big man Ante Tomic has meant Lithuania's shining light leading into the World Cup will be cheering on his countrymen from back at home. The dejection on the faces of the Lithuanian team as Kalnietis left the floor was for all to see, with his injury and throwing the doors wide open as to who may now finish top of Group D.
Slovenia wrapped up their preparations by arriving in Gran Canaria earlier than other Group D teams for a match against Team USA. The USA would have control for most of the match in a comfortable 101-71 victory. Even with much being said about the USA's lack of perceived height recently, this game exposed Slovenia's lack of big men, something that is now an ongoing concern for the Slovenes after the recent withdrawal from the World Cup of centre Erazem Lorbek.
Anticipation now builds for when Lithuania and Slovenia meet in what will be their last group match in Gran Canaria on September 4 in a blockbuster that could well decide who finishes on top in Group D.
One team who would like a say in that however is Australia who went into their final two preparation matches in Strasbourg, France on a 3-match winning streak. The Boomers would extend the streak to four when they met Finland for the third time in as many weeks, securing an 80-57 victory. David Andersen would continue his good form in front of his home fans of last domestic season with 19 points while Aron Baynes again filled the stat sheet with 17 points. The surprise on the European tour for the Boomers has been Ryan Broekhoff, who again would show nice touch from long-range connecting on 4/5 from distance against the Finnish.
In the Boomers final hit out before heading to Gran Canaria they came up against a French team eager for revenge who had lost narrowly to the green and gold a week earlier. The Boomers would struggle offensively all game with perhaps tired legs from nine matches across 16 days taking its toll and thoughts beginning to move to the tournament proper altering their focus. France would be largely untroubled by the Boomers in a one-sided 73-50 result. While Baynes again led with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Head Coach Andrej Lemanis would be hopeful this poor showing is a one-off and does not show itself again during Group D play and beyond.
Angola go into their first World Cup match in form by way of a victory against an Euskadi-Basque National team before an 83-74 victory against the Philippines in San Sebastian behind 29 points from Angolan guard Olimpio Cipriano.
Meanwhile, Mexico have had just the one outing since competing in Argentina in mid-August when they took on Ukraine in Badalona. Ukraine proved too much for the reigning FIBA Americas and Centrobasket champions, easily winning 73-55. Mexico however will take solace in the fitness of their NBA star Gustavo Ayon who took the court for over 32 minutes after sitting out their previous matches in Buenos Aires.
The Angolans will take on Korea in their first match of the World Cup where the Koreans will be hopeful their limited preparation schedule, having not played any matches since they took on New Zealand nearly a month ago, will not result in a slow start to their tournament aspirations.
Australia opens the 2014 FIBA World Cup against Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain on August 31 at 1:26am AEST live on ABC2 or online on FIBA's livebasketball.tv.
Preview of Australia's Group D Opponents (in order)
Slovenia (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 1:26am AEST Korea (Preview) - 31 August 2014, 9:26pm AEST Lithuania (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 1:26am AEST Mexico (Preview) - 3 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST Angola (Preview) - 4 September 2014, 9:26pm AEST