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Penney drops for Dream Team




USA 110 Tall Blacks 62


Do you think Michael Finley has heard of Kirk Penney now?

Questioned before the start of the world basketball championships, the University of Wisconsin's greatest basketball product had little or no knowledge of the current Badgers star.

"I'll be sure to introduce myself," said Finley, when warned of Penney's presence in the Tall Black team.

Well, the Dallas Mavericks guard got a real close look at Penney when the Kiwi drove past him for a layup during a spirited first-half showing at the Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Americans eventually blew out to an easy 110-62 victory to remain unbeaten at the event. What, you really thought New Zealand would be the team to break the Dream Team's 10-year unbeaten record?

But as they won the first quarter and stayed with their more illustrious foes until just after halftime, the Tall Blacks showed a glimpse of the form they will need to recapture for an entire 40 minutes if they are beat China and qualify for the championship quaterfinals on Thursday.

If nothing else, Penney ensured Finley would have something to remember him by.

"He schooled you," Boston Celtic forward Paul Pierce taunted his teammate.

Without their only NBA player Sean Marks, the Kiwis were up against a team of 11 veteran pros and one future star, newly drafted pointed guard Jay Williams.

In the past, any clash with the so-called Dream Team would have held only novelty value for everyone involved. But that is not Tab Baldwin's way.

The Tall Black coach adamantly refused to concede the game, maintaining there was some hope whenever you step out on the floor. He instructed his players to control two specific areas of play - the Americans' frighteningly quick fast break and their strength on the offensive glass.

To this end, he planned to play a big lineup all night, installing Ed Book into the starting lineup and notifying little-used Rob Hickey he would see some court time.

Most would have thought this lofty ambition beyond the humble Kiwis, but they had their fans in raptures the entire first quarter as they opened up an early six-point lead and led 25-22 at the first break.

The Americans, with exception of Finley, shot as cold as the Tall Blacks were smoking ... especially from the free throw line where they went 2/6 in the first 10 minutes and 9/18 (50%) for the half.

Finley went off, hitting three treys in his 13 first-quarter points, and, frankly, kept his side in the game. Take him out of the equation, his teammates went a collective 3/15 FG (20%) for the quarter.

Meanwhile, New Zealand went 4/7 (57%) from beyond the arc with Penney, captain Pero Cameron, center Ed Book, and guard Phill Jones all connecting.

With Marks out, they still struggled for an inside presence, but the American bigs never really took advantage of that.

It was probably too much to hope for the US to continue their shooting woes and when Finley finally found an ally in Pierce, they put on a little seven-point run at the start of the second quarter to assume control.

With NBA rebounding champion (and defensive player of the year) Ben Wallace taking over the boards, the Kiwis were getting no second shots and barely holding their own under their own basket. By halftime they faced a massive 14-28 (0-11OR) rebounding deficit and 42-48 on the scoreboard.

Still respectable.

"We tried every trick in the book, which we felt we had to do," said Baldwin. "For while, some of those things worked.

"But the water on the other side of the dam was deep and cold, and we didn't have enough fingers to keep it from bursting."

The Tall Blacks were still right there at 48-52, but then Pierce, as he has all tournament, owned the third quarter. While the Americans have often struggled to assert themselves at this event, Pierce has bailed them out time and again.

This time, he hit three treys to spark a 20-0 run ... and that was all she wrote.

The home team benefited from some generous refereeing and Baldwin was slapped with a technical foul for protesting a pretty obvious foul when Penney was flattened while driving to the basket again.

Sadly, the rest of the match turned into an exhibition as both side ran their benches. The Tall Black reserves simply could not contain their counterparts and the crowd got to see some spectacular plays from their heroes, including back-to-back alley oop dunks from Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion off passes from LA Clippers point guard Andre Miller.

After shooting 51.5% FG in the first half, the Tall Blacks could connect on only 6/32 (18.8%) in the second and 2/11 (18.2%) 3pt. Only Cameron, who hit two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Hickey, who led his team in rebounding with six, made any impact.

"It was a real honour to play against this American team," concluded Penney. "They just turned it up in that second half."

The Americans was very complimentary of their opponents. Head coach George Karl of the Milwaukee Bucks singled Cameron out as his favourite player.

"He's just an old-time basketball player who knows how to play," he said. "We see Kirk play with Wisconsin all the time and it was good to see him step up to this higher level.

"This team is an example of how I feel about the whole tournament. They are well coached and in the first half, some of the stuff they ran on offence kind of froze us a little bit.

"But our size and talent wears teams down."

For the Dream Team, Finley and Pierce each scored 20 points, while Wallace ruled the glass with 13 rebounds.

Penney led his team with 16 points, while Cameron had 13 (3/6 3pt), five rebounds and six assists.

Baldwin was disappointed with his team's second half effort, but was also conscious of not expending his leading players before the crucial game against China.

New Zealand, who beat the Asian champions on their home court without Marks earlier this year, need to win that to have any chance of proceeding to the quarterfinals. But they must also hope Germany can account for Russia in a game that starts an hour after theirs.

United States 110 (Paul Pierce 20, Michael Finley 20, Shawn Marion 16, Andre Miller 11) Tall Blacks 62 (Kirk Penney 16, Pero Cameron 13, Phill Jones 11) Halftime 48-42

OTHER RESULTS Russia 95 (Vassili Karassev 21) China 68 (Menke Batere 18), Argentina 86 (Andres Noccioni 19) Germany 77 (Dirk Nowitzki 21), Puerto Rico 73 (Carlos Arroyo, Antonio Latimer 18) Spain 65 (Pau Gasol 16, Yugoslavia 90 Brazil 69, Turkey 86 Angola 66

Source: nzoom

Date published: Sep 05, 2002