Basketball: Tall Blacks face uphill task

Leon Henry of New Zealand contests with Brad Newley of Australia. The Tall Blacks lost 91-78. Photo / Getty Images
Leon Henry of New Zealand contests with Brad Newley of Australia. The Tall Blacks lost 91-78. Photo / Getty Images

Australia 91 Tall Blacks 78

The Tall Blacks face an uphill task if they are to earn automatic qualification to the London Olympics after losing to Australia in the first of a three-game series last night.

The winners of the Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament earn an automatic trip to London, but the losers will have to face some difficult opponents in repechage tournaments a month before the Games.

It's not something the Tall Blacks want to do, and they will need to find a way to beat their more-fancied opposition.

Kirk Penney and Mika Vukona were New Zealand's most dangerous players in Melbourne last night, with Penney the dominant figure in the first half as he picked up 16 points, but they lacked support at crucial times.

Australia did a better job containing Penney in the second spell and the Tall Blacks went cold shooting from the outside and struggled to get good looks on the inside.

But they were well in the match at halftime, trailing 47-45, and led 53-52 with 6.27 to go in the third quarter.

At that stage, Australia looked rattled but momentum swung wildly and the home side established a decisive 73-58 lead by three-quarter time.

There was a definite edge to the second half and it was marred by a couple of scuffles that resulted in New Zealand's Mark Dickel being ejected for his second foul.

Penney nailed a couple of three-pointers to keep the score respectable but it will take something remarkable for New Zealand to win the next two matches.

In the women's game, the Tall Ferns were left ruing a slow start to their match against the Opals after succumbing 77-64.

The second matches in the series are in Brisbane on Friday.

- APNZ

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