With Olympic qualifiers on the doorstep for both nations, they each fielded teams close to full-strength, with the Spaniards suiting up NBA stars Pau and Mark Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio. Juan Carlos Navarro was a late omission, following the death of his father the day before, with both sides wearing black armbands and observing a minute’s silence as a mark of respect.
Led by captain Matt Nielsen, Patty Mills and European-based players Joe Ingles and David Barlow, the Aussies started well, capitalising on some costly Spanish errors to lead at the end of the first 12-10 in a low-scoring contest.
With Spain slowly getting on top in the rebound count, they were able to build a handy 24-15 lead mid-way through the second term, but the Aussie defense continued to stifle their opponent, as the Boomers pushed and bridged the gap 30-25 going into the change-rooms.
The Boomers continued their run after half time, starting the term 8-2 and drawing to within one point of Spain. But the Olympic Silver Medalists steadied — they lifted on defense, and turned stops into baskets at the other end of the floor, putting together a 15-2 run to build a handy 12-point lead, eventually ending the quarter 50-39 in front.
In the midst of an off shooting night for the Boomers, they needed to turn things around offensively in the last to have any chance of snatching the win. But it was Spain who came out with the hot hand, quickly jumping out to a 21 point lead, a deficit which the Boomers would not recover from, ultimately going down by 17 points.
The Boomers struggled to find the bottom of the net, particularly from range, connecting on only one of 24 three-point attempts, something that head coach Brett Brown had taken into account in his assessment of the team’s performance.
“I was proud of our defense. To hold that team to 68 points was a fantastic effort and that’s what we take out of the game,” said Coach Brown.
“We’re not going to shoot one from 24 very often. We had a down night offensively, we had an incredibly poor night from the three point line but the defense was solid and it enabled us to hang around throughout the game and I don’t think that the margin is reflective of the game,” he said.
For the Boomers, team captain Matt Nielsen and Joe Ingles both top-scored with 11 points while Aron Baynes added 8 points.
For Spain, LA Lakers star Pau Gasol had 16 points, while his brother Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzles finished with 12. San Emeterio finished with 10 points.
The Boomers now head to Valencia, where they will play their second match-up with Spain, their final hit-out before returning home to prepare for the FIBA Oceania Championship, the official qualification series for London 2012.
“You come over here and you’re overwhelmed by the fanfare of the game. The popularity of basketball as a sport and the stadium we played in was fantastic,” said Brown.
“We were here to win. We played the game to win the game. We felt at stages, we were doing what we needed to do to compete at that level and you do, you walk away with a lot of positive signs,” he said.
Game One of that FIBA Oceania Championship series, which is to be played as a unique double-header with the Jayco Opals, will be in Melbourne on 7 September at the State Netball Hockey Centre (AKA ‘The Cage’). Game Two will be at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on 9 September and Game Three at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 11 September.
Tickets for the Melbourne and Sydney games are on sale now through Ticketmaster, while tickets to the Brisbane game are now being sold through Ticketek.
Boomers 51 (Nielsen 11, Ingles 11) def by Spain 68 (P. Gasol 16, M. Gasol 12)
Quarter by quarter
1st: 12 – 10
2nd: 13 – 20
3rd: 14 – 20
4th: 12 – 18
26 Aug International Friendly vs Spain – Valencia, Spain
3 – 6 Sept Training Camp - Melbourne
7 Sept 2011 FIBA Oceania Championship for Men (vs NZ) – Game 1, Melbourne
9 Sept 2011 FIBA Oceania Championship for Men (vs NZ) – Game 2, Brisbane
11 Sept 2011 FIBA Oceania Championship for Men (vs NZ) – Game 3, Sydney