Winners by seven points on Sunday night in Sydney, 84-77, the Boomers needed to win the return bout or lose by less than seven points to earn Oceania Champion status and ensure a top seeding at next year’s FIBA World Championship.
But without stars Andrew Bogut, Matt Nielsen, David Andersen, CJ Bruton, Mark Worthington and Patty Mills the Boomers couldn’t stem a 19-2 Kiwi run in the third quarter of tonight’s game and will now face a tough road in Turkey in 2010.
South Dragons Championship winning forward Mika Vukona had the game of his life for New Zealand, with the usually suspect scorer tallying a game high 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Reigning National Basketball League MVP Kirk Penney had 24 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds for the Tall Blacks who also got a stellar game from young 7 foot 3 centre Alex Pledger, who amassed 15 points and a game high 13 rebounds, with seven of them offensive.
Beijing Olympian Brad Newley was Australia’s high scorer with 20 points, with Nathan Jawai contributing 17 points and 9 rebounds, A.J. Ogilvy adding 14, Joe Ingles 13 and Adam Gibson 12.
Boomers head coach Brett Brown was extremely disappointed to lose the Ramsay Shield but still maintained a big picture outlook.
“You’ve got to give credit to New Zealand,” Brown said. “They exposed some of the things we were doing and our young guys had trouble dealing with the environment we were in.
“We were outplayed physically and we couldn’t match their aggression.
“From an execution standpoint, defensively I think we did a good job on Penney but he did a good job of finding his team mates and his team mates made plays.
“We challenged Vukona to make shots and he did. He had a heck of a game.
“We wanted to beat New Zealand and we had a responsibility to do that and we feel like we took a backward step tonight and I don’t feel comfortable in that situation and personally it hurts.
“But looking long term and remembering the development phase that we are going through, we learned a lot tonight and that will help us at the World Championship next year.”
Tall Blacks head coach Nenad Vucinic was buoyant after the victory.
“No one gave us any credit, no one gave us any respect and everybody was thinking our old generation was gone and we can’t win against anybody, but we won tough games in Europe, tougher than this and I’m really happy for our guys,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s our biggest win against Australia, but it’s a big win.”
Game MVP Vukona was quick to credit his team mates despite making the biggest contribution to the Tall Blacks victory.
“I know it’s clichéd, but tonight was a team effort,” he said.
“After what happened in Australia we wanted to come back here and treat our locals to a good game and I think we did that tonight.
“We knew we didn’t have it until the final buzzer after we gave it up to Australia in the fourth quarter last game, but as soon as that whistle went we were celebrating.”
Tall Blacks point guard Lindsay Tait opened the scoring on a three-point bomb and the teams traded blows and baskets in a physical opening quarter before Jawai’s injection off the bench resulted in the Boomers taking a 14-11 lead.
New Zealand’s young centre Benny Anthony was not intimidated by the Dallas Mavericks forward, and when Jawai tweaked a tender ankle in a scramble for a loose ball Anthony engineered a Kiwi fight back that had the hosts ahead after one quarter, 17-16.
Gibson and Newley kept the Boomers in touch in the second quarter but when Penney and Corey Webster nailed threes the Tall Blacks were inspired and looking to extend on a five point lead.
The Boomers showed great poise to stem the momentum and when Gibson found Ogilvy on a textbook pick and roll Australia had reduced the margin to one, 35-34, with 2:40 remaining in the period.
Neither team scored for the next 100 seconds but when Jawai slid in a left hook shot and Ingles stole the ball and finished a breakaway layup with a one handed dunk Australia was alive.
Newley then enacted the exact play as Ingles, picking the pocket of the point guard and finishing the breakaway with a dunk, this one two-handed.
Alex Pledger stopped the Kiwi bleeding with a tough finish near the half time buzzer but when the teams went to the locker room Australia had a two point lead, 40-38.
Newley had 11 points to lead the Aussies at the half, with Jawai on 10 and Gibson on 8, with the team shooting 53 per cent from the floor but a woeful 0-for-7 on three-point attempts kept a lid on the Boomers’ advantage.
Penney had 11 to lead the Tall Blacks and Anthony had 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting, but New Zealand’s dominance on the boards in game one had been largely curtailed, with the Boomers ahead 14-12 at the half in the rebound count.
Newley kissed one off the glass to get things going in the third and the Aussie pick and roll was working like clockwork but when Vukona raised eyebrows with two consecutive 18 foot jumpers and Pledger hit another the Kiwis had regained the lead, 47-46.
A time out didn’t stop Pledger going again and when Penney hit his second three-pointer New Zealand was up by six. Ingles was then called for an unsportsmanlike foul on an Abercrombie lay-up and the wheels were wobbly on the Boomers’ cart.
The crowd was raucous as the Kiwi onslaught continued and when Brett Brown called another time out with 3:52 left in the third New Zealand had put on a jaw-dropping 19-2 run.
Newley and Jawai kept Australia in the game but when Jawai and Vukona had words and were called for double technical fouls the intensity was palpable and New Zealand handled it better.
The roof lifted off when Mike Fitchett drained a prayer three-pointer on the three-quarter time buzzer, putting New Zealand up by an astounding 19 points, 74-55.
With an 0-for-11 three-point record with a quarter to play, hopes were hard to come by in the Boomers camp for a comeback and it was New Zealand scoring first in the final stanza after an assist from Fitchett.
Time ticked away in the fourth quarter with Australia unable to bridge the gap despite the Tall Blacks going cold from the floor.
Every question the Boomers asked was answered by Vukona and Pledger, even Australia’s first three point basket by Newley when 4:23 remained in the game, but the Boomers were still in touch of the series victory despite being down 85-68 when 3:03 remained.
Australia hit a couple of threes in the final minutes but it was all for naught as the Boomers finished with an inexplicable 3-of-23 (13 per cent) from beyond the three-point arc.
New Zealand won the rebound count 41-30 despite trailing 12-14 at half time and shot a sizzling 60 per cent from the floor (36-of-60) and 64 per cent (7-of-11) from the three-point line.
The Kiwi victory could have been even more substantial if they had connected at a better clip than their 21-of-32 from the free throw line.
The Boomers depart for China tomorrow to contest the Boris Stankovic Cup against China, Turkey and Angola, concluding the 2009 program.
Quarter by quarter:
1. NZL 17 AUS 16
H: AUS 40 NZL 38 (23-16)
3. NZL 74 AUS 55 (36-15)
F. NZL 100 AUS 78 (26-23)
NEW ZEALAND 100 (Mika Vukona 25, Kirk Penney 24, Alex Pledger 15) bt
AUSTRALIA 78 (Brad Newley 20, Nathan Jawai 17, Andrew Ogilvy 14)
at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington, New Zealand