The New Zealand men’s team have been narrowly beaten by the hosts in the Grand Final of the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia this morning.
It was a tough finish to what was an otherwise prosperous day for New Zealand basketball. Everard Bartlett, Alonzo Burton, Tom Vodanovich and Rory Fannon commendably outplayed some strong opposition to make the Grand Final stage, including Kyrgyzstan in the quarter-final (21 – 9) and then narrowly scraped through the semi-final after a tough overtime win to beat Kazakhstan (20 – 18).
Mongolia was backed by packed-house during the Grand Final, with the home fans boisterous and anxious for the Gold Medal. The home team also had the advantage of being well-conditioned to the thin air – Ulaanbaatar is 1,580 metres above sea level.
The New Zealanders fought hard for every point and were tenacious play by play. They threatened to take the upper hand after making two free-throws to tie the game up at 14 all with 1:22 left on the clock. Yet, despite a courageous performance, the Gold ultimately slipped from their grasp as Mongolia was lifted by a wave of frenzied support from the stands. Head Coach Anthony Corban said it was a tough loss to take after what was a week of highs for the team.
“It’s a pretty empty feeling, but if a few plays don’t go your way it can truly cost you. That’s the reality of a Grand Final, particularly in the game of 3x3.
“Our group had a defensive breakdown off the free throws, and Mongolia was running a free-throw play that I ironically dropped into our programme five years ago. They made the two-point shot and followed it up with a free throw – game over.
“We had discussed the defensive strategy to defend that play, but the players couldn’t hear each other. The home-crowd was crazy, almost deafening, and we had very few friends at the indoor venue. In the end, we just didn’t have the legs to get out to the shooter successfully.
“I think the damage was done in the semi-final, that over-time win hurt us. Our players struggled to stay in the game in the Final, it was just sheer determination and guts kept us in the game.
“The hardest thing is we had a chance to win it. The game of 3x3 is so cruel and unforgiving when it comes to decision making – get it wrong and you lose control of the game.”
Despite the heartbreak of a Grand Final defeat, the Kiwis should be proud of themselves, particularly for three members of this team who have been introduced to FIBA 3x3 at this event. Only Rory Fannon had experience on the 3x3 stage. A silver medal is a brilliant result upon reflection and it predicts exciting times ahead of this programme. Also a young 3x3 star was found in Alonzo Burton, who made the tournament team.
The New Zealand women’s 3x3 team were bailed out in the quarter-final by China (12 – 18), who eventually finished with a Bronze medal.
The women’s team had to contend with illness as Captain Deena Franklin was suffering from food poisoning. It affected her offensive output and the team overall struggled to find their rhythm of their earlier games. They were simply out-hustled by the well-drilled and well-funded China team.
“We defended the three-point line well, so China struggled to get inside and didn’t make many two-point shots, but our defensive rotations off the ball were sadly lacking. We preserved with post-entry attack against their bigs, as opposed to looking for some on-ball action to make them defensively defend the three point line. Still, a top-eight finish is a pleasing result for this team and the challenge of a medal in 2018 has been laid down to this group,” said Coach Corban.
For more on the event go to FIBA's Tournaments webpage here.
Women’s 3x3 New Zealand Team:
Men’s 3x3 New Zealand Team:
Anthony Corban, Head Coach
Leanne Walker, Assistant Coach
Watch the Grand Final from 6:55