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Dirk NOWITZKI (GER)
1/8 finals of the FIBA World Championship 2006. Germany vs Nigeria. (27.08.2006). Photo Credit: Castoria/Ciamillio.
27/08/2006Game Report, Germany vs Nigeria, 78-77, EIGHT-FINALS
SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) - Germany survived a poor shooting night from Dirk Nowitzki and poor offensive execution down the stretch to advance to the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship with a 78-77 victory over Nigeria.

Nowitzki and Ademola Okulaja combined to score Germany's final 20 points of the game but they couldn't solve Nigeria's defense in the final minutes.

Nowitzki finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds despite shooting only 7 of 18 from the field. He gave Germany a 78-71 advantage with a break-away dunk with 2:33 to go. The team, however, didn't score the rest of the way, failing to convert on their final four possessions and leaving the door open for Nigeria.

Ekene Ibekwe blocked a shot on the defensive end and came back down for a spectacular dunk off Ebi Ere's missed shot with 1:33 remaining to make it 78-74

Chamberlain Oguchi and Tunji Awojobi combined for three free throws to pull within one point. But Nowitzki made up for two miscues on the offensive end, by getting a piece of Ime Udoka's inside lay-up attempt with less than a second remaining, and Okulaja gathered the rebound for the victory.

The game - the first meeting between these teams in international play - was an emotional tug of war for Okulaja, who was born in Nigeria and moved to Germany when he was three years old.

"It's a good thing but it's also a bad thing," said Okulaja, who had by far his best game of the tournament with 19 points and eight rebounds. "They're all great guys. But
Germany won and we deserved it.

On the final shot by Udoka, Okulaja said: "I was just hoping he was going to miss it. Dirk was contesting it well, I got the rebound so I'm really happy about it."

Ibekwe was disappointed losing by one point but encouraged by the performance.

"This is a tough loss but it's a great result for Nigeria basketball. I'm really proud of my team-mates. We've been through a lot. We didn't have much time together as a team so this is very encouraging," said the 21-year-old Ibekwe, who scored a team-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Nigeria were close to collecting the second scalp of a major basketball power, after beating title-holders Serbia & Montenegro in the first round.

"We know the Nigerian team can compete. It's really encouraging to lose by just one point and have a chance to win on the last possession," Ibekwe added.

"I thought that was a foul call as Ime (Udoka) drove to the basket but the referee didn't call it. That's how it goes sometimes. But overall I'm very proud of my team. We put up a fight."
The Nigerians started cold, hitting just three of their first 11 shots. Still they led 12-10 with 3:31 left in the first quarter

Germany used their outside shooting to push ahead with Okulaja, Sven Schultze and Demond Greene all hitting threes in opening a 21-16 advantage. The Germans were ahead 25-20 after 10 minutes

Dirk Bauermann's German team was able to move the ball very well and found a number of easy looks. Nowitzki twice fed Patrick Femerling for driving layups as Germany opened a 37-27 lead - the biggest advantage of the game.

Gabe Mouneke hit back-to-back three pointers to bring Nigeria to within two points at 41-39 with 2:34 in the first half.

Mithat Demirel made two foul shots to push the lead back to 48-41. But a Ibekwe three-point play gave the Germans a 48-44 advantage at the break.

Both teams came out of the locker rooms cold and Nowitzki's jumper gave Germany an eight-point bulge - 52-44, prompting a Nigeria time-out.

Ibekwe took over the next 1:30, blocking a shot by Nowitzki and saving it ahead to Ere Ebi for a break away layup. He then scored three points of his own.

After a Germany time-out, Johannes Herber buried a three-pointer to give Germany a 55-49 lead. Nigeria would not roll over, pulling even at 58-58 on Mouneke's long jumper with 1:29 to go in the third.

On Germany's next possession, Muoneke thought he had stolen the ball from Nowitzki but was whistled for a foul and the 7-footer hit two foul shots. And Germany was ahead 62-58 going into the final 10 minutes.

Okulaja sandwiched a three-point play between two three-pointers as Germany were able to get some breathing room - 73-64 with 5:36 remaining.

Germany failed to put the Africans away with Schultze missing two treys and Nowitzki was off on a three of his own. Ibekwe took advantage and trimmed the lead to 73-69 with a dunk at the 3:47 mark.

Nowitzki came back to convert a three-point play to make it 76-69. After two more German missed three-pointers, Nowitzki's break-away dunk on Demirel's steal proved Germany's final points for a 78-71 lead.

Bauermann was made to suffer over the final 1:08 in watching Nowitzki and Demirel both turn the ball over before Nowitzki couldn't get a shot off before the shot clock expired.

"This is a great accomplishment for German basketball after winning the silver medal last year (at the 2005 EuroBasket)," Bauermann said.

"Nigeria is a very good team. They played very tough defense and they are a very hard nose team. They are not just athletic, but they also know how to play the game. And that's a combination you don't always see. We're very happy. We beat a very very good Nigerian team."

On an off night by Nowitzki, the coach praised Okulaja and the rest of the team.

"Dirk is an extremely big part of our team. But one cannot beat five. Okulaja played a great offensive game, and we need him to be our second scorer. We are not just a one-man team. Dirk didn't have a great game today, and when you're able to beat a team like Nigeria on a day Dirk isn't playing well, that's a good sign for us."

Nigeria coach Sam Vincent was more optimistic about the future than disappointed.

"We have to give a lot of credit to the Germany team. Every time we made a rally they answered with a big three or a strong defensive play," Vincent said. "Our team fought hard. This is the first time this group is playing together in such big tournament. I think the future is bright if we continue to improve."

He added: "We gave ourselves a chance to win, and this is what we wanted to do. I feel we finished on a high level. We exceeded the expectations of people."

In the quarter-finals, Germany will play the winner of the United States-Australia match.

By David Hein, FIBA