Out of 20 competing countries, New Zealand has come fourth in the FIBA Under 18 3x3 World Cup over night, after losing to Slovenia in the bronze medal match.
It was a big day of finals matches for the Kiwis in Chengdu, China, with a Quarter Final win over Hungary, followed by a Semi Final loss to number one seed The Netherlands. Coach Corban said by the time the Bronze medal match was played, the Kiwis were struggling to maintain their composure in the over 30 degree heat and intense humidity. But he wasn’t looking for excuses, his frustration was clear, believing the game should have been closed out by his team with a four point lead and two minutes to go.
“After letting this game slip, our team debrief was pretty heated. A team shouldn’t lose a 3x3 game when up by four points with just over two minutes to go, but we did when we had the bronze medal firmly in our grasp. Poor decision making led to turnovers and an avalanche of points on us. It was tough to handle, especially after Rangimarie Mita did a great job getting us back into the game with his two point shooting,” said Corban.
The Slovenians were too consistent under pressure and pulled out, managing to reach the required 21 points first, to claim the Bronze.
Final Score: New Zealand 17, Slovenia 21.
The day had started with the Kiwis playing the Quarter Final against Hungary, a team that relied on the dribble and drive, and dribble and dish, versus the controlled slower game of New Zealand. Although the Kiwis only managed to steady their ship after letting the Hungarians fly away to an early 5 to 1 lead. It took Will Heather to bring the Kiwis back to five all, after muscling every single point back with a small hook under the post.
From there both teams traded blows to remain even for most of the game. It wasn’t until a timely bucket from Thabo Manyere that the Kiwis finally took the lead for the first time. Hungary, unfazed, hit straight back – 14 all with 28 seconds to play. It then seemed fitting for Will Heather to chalk the final game winning point, by again using his trademark dribble, bounce and pop to muscle in the final basket.
Coach Corban was delighted with the team’s performance where they managed to keep their focus in a pressured game where it could have gone either way.
“We managed the game clock quite well to clinch a narrow one point win. It was a total team performance. Everyone contributed in the heat of battle and our on-court communication and leadership was very strong.”
Final score: New Zealand 16, Hungary 15.
The Semi Final presented the tournaments number one seed, The Netherlands. Before the game the boys from Holland refused to accept the Kiwi challenge, cowering into a huddle and choosing to not face their opponents. Perhaps it was just ignorance though - once on court, it was clear the Netherlands wanted this win more.
In the first two plays, the Netherlands were generously given two big open-looks and punished the lack of Kiwi defence by drilling both shots from outside the arc. Isiah Jones managed to notch the Kiwis first point in close, but the Netherlands hit back to make it a 5 – 1 lead.
It was a margin that New Zealand could not recover. The tournaments’ Shoot Out winner, Calvin Poulina, was clinical in constantly moving forward and scoring from almost any position.
The Kiwis energy seemed spent after their hairline Quarter Final win, Coach Corban agreed and said his team didn’t bring that foot speed to the Semi.
“Despite following a pretty strict recovery routine before this game, we were too slow and suffered the consequences. My players assured me they had taken recovery products and food, and we found a nearby shopping plaza that was air conditioned, which was our best option to cool down in! But the Netherlands were too good, we gave them too much room.”
Final Score: New Zealand 10, Netherlands 8.
The Netherlands went onto the Final where they lost to the 2017 3x3 Under 18 World Cup champions Belgium, 17 to 12.
For footage go to the replay video of the FIBA livestream here.