The Tall Blacks' last-gasp Olympic qualifying attempt got off to a rocky start when they stuttered to a 73-49 loss to Brazil at a build-up tournament in Sao Paulo today.
The under-strength New Zealand men's team faced a side bolstered by NBA centres Nene Hilario and Anderson Varejao, and were immediately reminded of the harsh realities of international basketball.
In this first competitive outing of the campaign, coach Nenad Vucinic opted for 32-year-old "rookie" Hayden Allen to fill Kirk Penney's vacant shooting guard spot and moved captain Mika Vukona into Tom Abercrombie's small forward position, with Casey Frank replacing Vukona at power forward.
Momentum quickly swung to the home team, who built a double-figure advantage to lead 19-9 after 10 minutes. They proved especially hard to stop around the basket and established their dominance despite misfiring from long distance (0/8) and the free-throw line (3/8) through the first half.
Without Penney and Abercrombie - their two best outside threats in recent seasons - New Zealand looked like a team trying to figure out who would score. No one managed to find the basket more than once before halftime and, as a team, they shot just 25 per cent from the field to trail 33-16 at the break.
The Tall Blacks found a brief response from the unlikeliest of sources - teenage debutant Tai Webster, who produced a six-point flurry late in the period. They still lagged 32-54 entering the final stretch - not helped by 17 turnovers - but the Kiwis had managed as many points in the previous 10 minutes as they had in the entire first half.
Leon Henry, Lindsay Tait and Allen all provided three-pointers in the final quarter, and after momentarily falling 30 points behind, New Zealand closed the game with a seven-point run to salvage some respectability.
New Zealand face Greece tomorrow - 88-76 winners over Nigeria in the earlier game - at 10am NZ time.
Ultimately, they're preparing for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Caracas, Venezuela, where they must finish in the top three teams to secure one of the last spots available at London next month.
Brazil 73 (Marquinhos 14, Machado 10) New Zealand 49 (Tai Webster 8, Casey Frank 7).