The Tall Blacks hit their first significant speed bump on the road to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, defeated 84-55 by a well drilled Latvian team in Riga tonight, but of just as much concern as the result will be the calf strain suffered by shooting guard Corey Webster.
Head Coach Paul Henare says his side were simply outplayed, but was immediately looking at what the team might take out of such a tough night.
"Latvia were well drilled, classy and ready to play tonight, and for whatever reason we werent up to it. Maybe for a number in this group they simply didnt appreciate the quality we would be up against tonight.
"We will go over the tape, we will review this and talk about it as a group and individually of course, but the question I put to the boys immediately afterwards was that they had a choice, we as a group have a choice. We can walk away from this with our tails between our legs, or we can take it on the chin, learn from it and get better as a result. I have faith in this group that they will choose the latter.
"One thing is for sure, this doesnt get any easier, in two days we are up against the number three team in the world on their home court, so in that sense there is no choice, we have to learn and do so quickly."
The visitors were out of the blocks in fine fashion, opening an early lead on the back of strong defence and accurate shooting from Corey Webster but Latvia soon responded, going on a 12 point run with Isaac Fotu sitting early with two fouls to lead 19-10 midway through the first. The Tall Blacks regrouped though to stay in touch at the end of the first, trailing 26-21.
The second quarter saw another good run from New Zealand to tie it up 26 all, but just as Webster was looking to find his groove, the Tall Blacks shooting guard was cut short by a calf strain and headed to the bench and would play no further part in the game. The extent of the injury wont be known until the results of scans are known and the injury is given chance to settle over the next 24 hours.
That appeared to rattle the New Zealanders and Latvia went on an offensive assault, raining threes to clear out 47-31 at the main break, with the New Zealanders needing to head to the changing rooms to regroup.
Henare said the loss of Webster was not the difference in the game.
"Losing Corey didnt lose us the game, the injury did strike at a moment when he looked in the mood to take the game on his shoulders but we have to be better than that as a group. Obviously it is a concern but we will know more in the next 24 hours or so."
The signs were good early in the second half, with the Kiwis showed fighting spirit against the bigger and often times quicker Latvians, closing the margin to single figures before this time Tai Webster hit foul trouble and had to sit. The Latvians responded again and took the game away from the Tall Blacks with a 65-46 lead at the final break.
Head Coach Paul Henare ran the bench in the final quarter, with Mike Karena getting plenty of minutes and Derone Raukawa time at the point, with Webster on those four fouls and Shea Ili on three. In the end though it was a lesson from one of the European heavyweights who like New Zealand are heading to a final Olympic Qualifier next month to try and secure their berth in Rio.
Tall Blacks 55
Fotu 11, Abercrombie 10, C Webster 8
Strclnieks 12, Blums 12, Bertans 11