Basketball: Understrength Tall Blacks fall to Australia Boomers in Asia Cup qualifiers

A makeshift Tall Blacks team have been beaten 81-52 by Australia in their Asia Cup qualifier in Cairns.

The Kiwis were always up against it, with so many fresh faces taking the court, as coach Pero Cameron was restricted to players based in Australia and not playing in the ANBL. 

The Tall Blacks did have the services of NZ basketball legend Mika Vukona, who announced his retirement shortly after the contest, with the talismanic captain making up 152 of the 154 test caps on display across the rosters of both teams.

Taine Murray lead the scoring efforts for New Zealand with 14 points, while Houston O'Riley hit all three of his three-point attempts for 12 points and five assists.

The Boomers came out firing with a barrage of three-pointers in the first quarter, before the steadying hands of Murray and O’Riley brought the Kiwis back within 10 by half-time.

A run from the visitors in the third stanza saw the deficit cut to five, thanks to a Jono Janssen three, but the youthful Australian side, who were fit and well-oiled, were just too consistent for the 'ex-pat' Tall Blacks in the fourth.

While the result is the first loss for the Tall Blacks in these qualifiers, the reward was seeing this game played at all. 

Despite months of lead-up with reschedules, quarantine restrictions and the ongoing complications of playing international sport during a global pandemic, New Zealand are still alive in this competition. 

The Asia Cup qualifiers not only lead to the Asia Cup, but also to the 2023 World Cup and, potentially, the 2024 Olympics.

The Tall Blacks now drop to second on the table with three games left - two against Hong Kong and one against Guam. The top two teams automatically qualify for the Asia Cup in August, to be held in Indonesia.

Although defeated, Cameron applauded his side, admiring their commitment to ensuring the Tall Blacks remained in the FIBA cycle.

"I think there’s something to be said, not just for the warriors who have played for the black in the past, but also for these guys who bleed the black," Cameron says. "This was a unique challenge and there’s a lot of reasons why this game had to go ahead. 

"I think we all love a challenge and what both basketball federations have done... they’ve done a good job."

Captain Vukona also acknowledges this makeshift team and is incredibly proud to captain his under-strength side. 

"I'm just proud of the guys... to be able to put their hands up and say 'yep, we will walk off the cliff with you and represent the jersey and wear it with pride'," Vukona says.

"I said to them after the game, 'be disappointed with the scoreline, the fact that we lost, but don’t be ashamed for what you did out there'.

"These guys have literally come off the side of the street and have had to put their jobs on hold, and they’ve said, 'we will give it crack and go against these Aussies'. 

"They put their hands up and said they are going to play for the black jersey, that’s awesome."

Australia 81 (Daniels 23, Smith 22, Okwera 12) bt Tall Blacks (Murray 14, O'Riley 12, Janssen 8)