New Zealand capped off a near perfect preparation for the 2015 FIBA Oceania Championships by claiming the Stankovic Cup in China thanks to a 70-66 win over Mexico.
The Tall Blacks went unbeaten throughout the tournament and were superbly led by MVP Corey Webster who erupted for 30 points in the final. Isaac Fotu also capped off an impressive event, following up his 34 point outing in the semi final win over the host nation with a further 16 points in the final. Both Webster and Fotu were selected to the All-Tournament team.
— Basketball NZ (@BasketballNZ) August 7, 2015
On their way to the title, New Zealand accounted for China twice, Venezuela and Mexico twice. Their success follows two straight losses in Europe to Slovenia, essentially the same side that Australia earned a split record against in their final two games.
With Tall Black rising stars Webster and Fotu stepping up, head coach Paul Henare spoke glowingly of his two standout performers in China.
"Isaac had the blowout game against China, and that was a fantastic scoring effort," expressed Henare.
"But what he's been doing consistently is rebounding the ball. He's really a cleanup guy on the boards, and he's given us a huge advantage there.
"And Corey has been really consistent throughout the whole campaign. We rested his legs yesterday and were able to play him a little more tonight and he showed his class."
Henare was also understandably proud of his side's achievement in earning their second ever Stankovic Cup crown.
"These moments are rare for New Zealand basketball and we need to take the chance to be proud of what we've done," Henare stated.
"But now we quickly turn our attention to the main focus. This is all leading up to the series against Australia. That is our one and only goal and we are only a few steps along the way."
New Zealand enters the series against the Boomers riding a wave of confidence on the back of a 4-game winning streak. The Boomers however only managed just 1 win in four games after both heavily rotating and resting key players, while also suffering the loss of rising star Dante Exum.
While the Boomers have reached out to star NBA guard Patty Mills as a possible replacement, it is the Tall Blacks who are looking more prepared for the 2-game series that doubles as a qualification event for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The Tall Blacks bow return to New Zealand for a three-day camp in Auckland before making their way to Australia for the game against the Boomers at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on 15 August. While they remain without NBA center Steven Adams, they will be buoyed by their performance on tour in Europe and China.
As is almost always the case, the Tall Blacks are still likely to go in as underdogs against Australia. However Henare's side appear well-drilled, know their roles and are executing. They should not be underestimated.
Game one will be played at Rod Laver Arena on August 15 in front of a sold-out crowd and live national television coverage on GEM.
2015 FIBA Oceania Games – Olympic Qualifying Series
Melbourne, Australia – August 15, 2015: Jayco Australian Opals v NZ Tall Ferns Airbnb Australian Boomers v NZ Tall Blacks
Tauranga, New Zealand – August 17, 2015: NZ Tall Ferns v Jayco Australian Opals
Wellington, New Zealand – August 18, 2015: NZ Tall Blacks v Airbnb Boomers