Crocs survive NZ scare to remain unbeaten

ALTHOUGH it was not as cruisy as their first two wins, the Australian Crocs have made it three from three at the 2023 FIBA Oceania Championships in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday night.

The Crocs faced their toughest challenge yet when they took on New Zealand in their third game of the tournament. Australia had been the powerhouse side of the tournament to that point, recording a triple-digit win over Guam on the opening day, before backing it up with a blowout victory against Samoa on day two.

However, New Zealand had been just as impressive during its sole game heading into Wednesday’s clash. Australia’s neighbours across the Tasman had defeated the host nation by a whopping 76 points on the second day of play, so this was shaping as an enthralling battle.

Both sides had shown an immense ability to score the ball, particularly in the paint, but had not faced an opposition with such offensive power, so it was going to be a true test of each team’s defensive structures.

In the end, Australia prevailed by 12 points in a hard-fought affair, entering its rest day on a wave of momentum that could lead to the championship.

It was a tense start to the match, with neither side able to truly break away on the scoreboard. Inside scoring was at the forefront, and the Crocs managed to take the lead late in the period. Heading into quarter time, Australia led by two points, a clear indicator that this would be an arm wrestle of a match.

After New Zealand tied things up in the opening minute of the second quarter through a Julius Halaifonua hookshot, the Aussies broke away to lead by five points in the minutes that followed, finding success at scoring the ball inside.

However, New Zealand was not going anywhere, providing an answer for any Crocs bucket, even taking a one-point lead into the main break in a see-sawing affair.

The third quarter was more of the same, as scrappy buckets and physical defence resulted in neither team able to make that match-winning run. Although the period belonged to Australia, it was still only a three-point Croc lead heading into the final 10 minutes.

The fourth quarter was the only one-sided term of the match, as New Zealand’s defence dried up and the Aussies took full advantage down the other end. The Crocs outscored the opposition 21-12, storming home to a 12-point lead.

Once again, Roman Siulepa was the star of the show for Australia, producing another double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds in a stirring display. He has led the Crocs throughout the tournament and kept that trend rolling against New Zealand. Halaifonua was New Zealand’s best with 21 points and nine rebounds, particularly influential when the game was up for grabs earlier.

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