SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) – Manu Ginobili exploded for 28 points and Fabricio Oberto had 23 along with 10 rebounds as Argentina won 79-62 over New Zealand on the opening day of the eight-finals at the FIBA World Championship.
The Tall Blacks, surprise semi-finalists four years ago in Indianapolis, scraped their way into last 16 with just two triumphs in Group B and gave Argentina some uncomfortable moments but were brushed aside in the fourth quarter by the Olympic champions in Saitama.
Argentina struggled from long range, missing their first 17 attempts before Ginobili ended the drought in the fourth quarter to help put the game out of reach for the Kiwis.
Oberto and Co dominated the boards, pulling down 46 in the game, 17 off the offensive glass, while the Tall Blacks finished with 31.
“We have to give credit to New Zealand because they forced us to take shots from the outside,” said Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez. “But I don’t believe in the idea of having a bad day.
"Considering we shot six percent today from three-point range, you can't expect to achieve any more than what we did today."
Argentina led by as many as nine points in the first half but were unable to press home the advantage, and when Paul Henare made one of two from the line New Zealand only trailed 30-26 with 2:46 to go in the second quarter.
Phill Jones’ three-pointer with 47 seconds left cut the deficit to 35-29 and he had a chance to reduce the margin to three but his three-ball missed, and Argentina rebounded and raced to the other end where Luis Scola scored with a short jump shot to go into the changings rooms ahead at 37-29.
New Zealand made it 39-33 with 8:15 to go in the third on a Henare lay-up, but that’s when the wheels came off.
Oberto scored with a short jumper and then Henare was hit with an unsportsmanlike foul against Ginobili.
The San Antonio Spurs guard sank both shots and Argentina ended up outscoring the Kiwis 12-2 in a three-minute spell for a 51-35 lead.
New Zealand never recovered.
“It was a very physical game," Hernandez said. "I think the referees decided to let the players play, there was a lot of contact.”
Luis Scola, the Tau Ceramica superstar, fell hard to the court on one play in the first half and did not up, leading New Zealand’s Mark Dickel to rush to his aid and call for the Argentina trainers.
The power forward eventually came to his knees holding his mouth, walked to the bench holding parts of two chipped front teeth in his hand.
"This has never happened to me before," Scola said. "I guess this is the high price you pay when we play the game."
New Zealand were tricky opponents, but Argentina always looked in control.
Next up will be either Slovenia or Turkey.
“Now we have to prepare for our next game,” Hernandez said.
“Slovenia has a lot of natural talent while Turkey are more aggressive and show more character. The one we face will be a worthy opponent in the quarter-final stage.”
Pero Cameron’s three with 4:38 to play did bring the Kiwis to within 67-58, but the next points came from Ginobili, who buried Argentina’s only shot from the arc with 3:50 to play.
The NBA star then added a three-point play and Oberto added a jumper as Argentina opened up a 17-point lead with 2:14 to play to make sure of victory.
Kirk Penny, the New Zealand guard who played on the side that reached the last four in Indianapolis in 2002, said: “They kept coming and coming and we couldn’t get the run we needed.”
After the game, New Zealand coach Tab Baldwin announced his resignation after five years in charge of the Tall Blacks.
Baldwin, who led New Zealand to their first ever semi-final appearance at a FIBA World Championship four years ago, revealed he had taken this decision before the start of the tournament in Japan.
From Jeff Taylor