They don’t have the NBA star power that Australia boasts, but New Zealand aren’t feeling intimidated, vowing to be as physical as ever in Saturday’s Rio Olympic basketball qualifier.
With Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Cameron Bairstow on their side, the Boomers are clear favourites to take out the opening leg of the two-game series at Rod Laver Arena.
Of the 21 Oceania series they’ve contested since 1971, the Tall Blacks have been outright winners only once – claiming the championship 2-1 in 2001.
They also won in 2009, but on points after tying the series.
Coach Paul Henare admits beating Australia again is a long shot, but it’s a situation they’re familiar with.
“Whoever we play around the world we usually play as the underdog,” he said.
“Against the Boomers, especially, with the line-up they have.
“But I think we’re more comfortable playing from this position.”
Captain Mika Vukona, though, insists the Tall Blacks won’t back down without a fight.
“We have a lot of respect for the Boomers,” he said.
“But in terms of intimidation, I think we’ve got to take a page out of the Boomers’ book – you’ve got come in here with confidence and that’s something as a group we really believe in ourselves.
“It’s going to be one of those games where you’re just going to have to put your hard hat on and make sure you go out and play hard.”
While Henare doesn’t have NBA star Steven Adams at his disposal, he has the benefit of a squad that’s been together for more than a month and a core group that plays for the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL.
The Boomers, on the other hand, have had a disrupted build-up.
They lost two players to injury – point guards Dante Exum and Damian Martin – and replaced them with a pair who’ve had limited preparation in Mills and Cam Gliddon.
Bogut has also restricted his time on-court in the lead up after an intense NBA season.
Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis said the biggest challenge will be to not go “over the top” in front of a sold-out home crowd.
“We’ve got to ensure we play with a poise that’s going to give us an opportunity to be successful,” he said.
The second-leg will be played in Wellington on Tuesday, with the winner of the series to automatically qualify for the 2016 Rio Games.
AUSTRALIA’S OCEANIA CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
1971 – Australia 3-0
1975 – Australia 3-0
1978 – Australia 2-1
1979 – Australia 3-0
1981 – Australia 2-0
1983 – Australia 2-0
1985 – Australia 3-0
1987*- Australia 2-0
1989 – Australia 2-0
1990 – Australia 2-0
1991 – Australia 2-0
1993*- Australia 2-0
1995*- Australia 2-0
1997 – Australia 2-0
2001 – New Zealand 2-1
2003 – Australia 3-0
2005 – Australia 3-0
2007 – Australia 3-0
2009 – New Zealand 1-1 (NZ won 2nd game by more points, so were crowned Oceania champions)
2011 – Australia 3-0
2013 – Australia 2-0
*These series involved other Oceania teams
**In 1999, Australia automatically qualified for the 2000 Olympics as host, so NZ went through as Oceania qualifiers after beating Guam 1-0