The Tall Blacks will look to return to their winning ways tomorrow night, when they face Saudi Arabia at Christchurch Arena in a FIBA World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) game.
This is the first time the Tall Blacks have played in Christchurch since 2018, when New Zealand defeated Jordan 96-69 at the then-Horncastle Arena. Coming off a pair of losses against Jordan and Lebanon in their last two WCQ games – both played away from home last November – the Tall Blacks are hungry to win both this game and their Lebanon clash on Monday.
Despite those losses, New Zealand still maintains a healthy record in the Asian Qualifiers, going 6-2 overall (including 2-0 at home) to sit second in Group E behind Lebanon (7-1).
Although the Kiwis have already qualified for the FIBA World Cup in August this year – one of the first teams to do so – a win tomorrow will help with their final Group E ranking; important for the upcoming FIBA World Cup draw at the end of April when the 32 teams find out who they’ll face in pool play.
The Tall Blacks bring in several veterans for this game, led by team captain Isaac Fotu alongside Reuben Te Rangi, Tohi Smith-Milner, Jordan Ngatai and Ethan Rusbatch and their combined 279 caps for New Zealand. They’ll be counted on to provide the bulk of the scoring, in particular Rusbatch (12.3ppg), Smith-Milner (10.4ppg) and Te Rangi (10.5ppg).
Fotu’s rebounding – 7.5 per game – and strong inside presence continues to be vital for the Tall Blacks, with the Kiwis leading the FIBA Asian conference in both rebounding (45.8 per game) and two pointers made (60.8%). New Zealand also ranks third in Asia in both points scored (88.8 ppg) and overall efficiency, behind rivals Australia and Lebanon.
A late addition to the Tall Blacks squad has been 6’10” forward Sam Waardenburg, who joined the team on Wednesday after flying in from Cairns – where his Taipans team lost to the Sydney Kings in the Australian NBL semi-finals. This will be Waardenburg’s first Tall Blacks appearance, and he replaces Jordan Hunt in the squad that faces Saudi Arabia.
The last time the Kiwis faced Saudi Arabia was in August last year, when they travelled to the Middle East in August to face them in Dammam. The Tall Blacks emerged with a 80-65 victory thanks to four players in double figures; Shea Ili (14), Ben Gold (13), Rusbatch (11) and Te Rangi (10).
In comparison to New Zealand, Saudi Arabia’s entire FIBA World Cup 2023 dreams hangs in the balance with Friday’s game. Have only won one of their five WCQ games since July last year – their solitary win courtesy of a winless India team – Saudi Arabia has limped into this final WCQ window with a 2-6 record. In order to keep their FIBA World Cup qualifying hopes alive, they’ll have to win against both New Zealand and India in the coming days for a chance to lock in a spot.
Despite their record, Saudi Arabia are not expected to be easy pickings for the Kiwis. Although missing some of their regular players, they’ve bought with them the team’s top three scorers in Mathna Almarwani (13.1ppg), Khalid Abdel Gabar (11.8ppg, 38.1 3P%) and Mohammed Alsuwailem (10.8ppg).
32 year-old guard Abdel Gabar is a known menace after he torched New Zealand for 22 points and 8 rebounds last year, while Alsuwailem provides an imposing inside presence; the 6’10” centre averaged a double-double along with 2.3 blocks per game in 4 WCQ games in 2022. His presence was sorely missed when the Tall Blacks beat Saudi Arabia in Dammam in August.
Tall Blacks World Cup Qualifier Games, New Zealand
- Tall Blacks vs Saudi Arabia, Christchurch Arena – Friday 24 February
- Tall Blacks vs Lebanon, TSB Arena Wellington – Monday 27 February
- Tickets at bbnz.cloud/tickets
Tall Blacks Squad of 12 v Saudi Arabia, Feb 2023
Taylor Britt (14 caps)
Walter Brown, Tasmania Jackjumpers (1 cap)
Isaac Fotu, Utsunomiya Brex (68 caps)
Hyrum Harris, Adelaide 36ers & Hawkes Bay Hawkes (6 caps)
Tyrell Harrison, Brisbane Bullets (3 caps)
Nikau McCullough (3 caps)
Jordan Ngatai, Hawkes Bay Hawkes (64 caps)
Richie Rodger, Taranaki Airs (4 caps)
Ethan Rusbatch (44 caps)
Reuben Te Rangi, Southeast Melbourne Phoenix & Auckland Tuatara (52 caps)
Tohi Smith-Milner, Southeast Melbourne Phoenix & Wellington Saints (51 caps)
Sam Waardenburg, Cairns Taipans (0 caps)
Saudi Arabia Squad of 12, Feb 2023
Khalid Abdel Gabar
Abdulmalik Mohammednidal Ashoor