Tight game … “sweeping” Australia versus “gritty” Iran in FIBA Asia Cup final. Video: FIBA Asia Cup
By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
A second-tier Australian team ruled a basketball kingdom that is the world’s largest by size: Asia.
The Boomers swept past the opposition, including a gritty Iran side last night, 79-56, to claim the FIBA Asia Cup championship in Beirut, Lebanon.
Australia swept all six matches in both preliminary and knock-out phases, beating opponents by an average of 28.83 points.
In the final, Australia led 12-2 to start off the game, but Iran soon gained ground. With the margins 16-14, guard Jason Cadee made a back-to-the-basket shot over Iranian center Meisam Mirzaetalarposhti with 2.5 ticks left in the first quarter.
From there, world number ten Australia were never threatened by world number 25 Iran, three-time champions of the old FIBA Asia Championships.
The gold medal match was the first FIBA Asia Cup which covers the old Asia zone and the Oceania zone, which Australia ruled for decades.
The scary part is Australia’s Beirut squad had none of its eight current NBA players led by Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills. There were only two holdovers of the 2016 Rio Olympics team who barely missed the bronze medal over Spain: David Andersen and Brad Newley.
On average, Adelaide 36er Mitch Creek led the Boomers in scoring (14.7 points per game) while fellow 36er Matthew Hodgson towed Australia in the rebounding department (6.6 rebounds per game).
Australia’s offensive attack was more balanced, to the point no Boomer made it to the tournament’s mythical five and the top five players in the major statistical categories like points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and three-point shooting percentage – an exception is overall field goal shooting percentage, which Creek topped (68.5 per cent field goal).
That alone reflects the depth of the Australian basketball program. Asian countries like Iran, China and the Philippines had some of their best players skipping the tournament or retiring from international play. But some of their leagues’ best players played in Beirut.
Australia’s long-time Oceania rival New Zealand lost to Korea in the bronze medal game, 71-80. China snatched fifth spot over Lebanon (79-78) while the Philippines got some end-game luck to beat Jordan for seventh place (75-70).
The entire FIBA Asia Cup mattered for countries’ current world rankings. But the tournament did not create any impact on the forthcoming home-and-away qualification matches for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
These matches, patterned after football’s FIFA World Cup qualifications, begin November 2017 and end November 2018. Australia is bracketed with Japan, the Philippines and Chinese-Taipei.
Jeremaiah Opiniano is an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila, Philippines.