Golden opportunity: Boomers face Spain in FIBA World Cup semi-final
Written by Oliver Kay
For the Boomers, the time is now.
Under the shining lights of the FIBA World Cup, Australia has proven its ability to rise to the occasion, a squad more than capable of matching it with the World’s best.
Standing in their way is a Spanish team that has historically had Australia’s number, with no memory more painstaking than the fateful medal game in Rio.
With the bronze medal on the line at the 2016 Olympics, both teams were relentless. It was an epic battle, with the tide of the game swinging back and forth. With 9.7 seconds remaining Australia took the lead, thanks to a hook-shot from Aron Baynes, however, heartbreak was waiting in the wings.
A late whistle on Patty Mills sent Sergio Rodriguez to the free-throw line, where he buried Australia’s hopes of a medal.
“We remember that game,” Andrew Bogut told FOX Sports Australia’s Olgun Uluc, after Australia’s quarter-final win over the Czech Republic.
“We’ve held that for three years. [It] would’ve been our first chance at a medal, and we’ve held on that, spoken about it numerous times, and it still hurts today.”
Despite the narratives surrounding tonight’s game, Andrej Lemanis is keeping the team’s focus on the task in front of them, rather than looking back.
“I don’t think it needs to be brought up and spoken about specifically because everyone is aware of it,” he said after the Czech Republic game.
“In many ways I think that hurt has driven the passion and the focus for this tournament, and the commitment to it. One of the first things I heard when we walked back into the locker room was guys saying, ‘the job’s not done yet, job’s not done yet,’ so I think the focus is there and we just need to prepare for Spain as we prepare for everybody else.”
Preparation will be key, Spain’s roster has a dangerous mix of experienced international veterans and young talent, with the star power to match the Boomers.
In Ricky Rubio, Spain has an aggressive floor general, capable of making the impossible pass and exploit any shred of daylight given to him. With Rubio pulling the levers, Spain is a team that can flip the switch in the blink of an eye.
A 32 percent three-point shooter over the course of his eight year NBA career, the temptation when guarding Rubio is drop back on the perimeter and dare him to shoot the long ball. In a scary development, this tactic may prove fruitless, as he has shot a scorching 47.6 percent from beyond the arc at the World Cup. His average of 15.3 points also makes him Spain’s leading scorer.
Luckily for the Boomers, they have an ideal Rubio counter in Matthew Dellavedova. Defensively, Dellavedova has all the tools to make life difficult for the crafty Spaniard. A big point of emphasis for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ guard, -and the entire defence- is to limit Rubio’s damage in the pick and roll.
With NBA veteran Marc Gasol set to combine with Rubio in Pick and Roll sets, the Boomers will need to be aware of the big man’s ability to pop to the perimeter and knock down jump shots. Gasol’s role on the Spanish team is similar to Bogut’s with the Boomers. Both are defensive anchors who can put up points and get boards, but both are also key cogs that govern how their teams offence flows.
Gasol is averaging 3.7 assists per game on top of his 11.3 points. With the ball in his hands he is a legit triple threat, with a jump shot, drive or pass all real possibilities. Like Rubio, limiting Gasol’s impact will require a team effort to restrict his options.
While Rubio and Gasol will be the major focus of Australia’s scouting report, the depth of talent on the Spanish roster is formidable. Alongside the aforementioned pair, Spain has two other NBA players combined with a mix of talent from some of the top leagues in Europe.
The FIBA World Cup has not been without a sense of drama, and tonight the Boomers will be eager to correct their history with Spain, in the process giving themselves a shot at the gold.
Boomers v Spain will tip-off at 6:00pm (AEST) – Watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo.
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