Australia’s bid for a maiden basketball World Cup medal has suffered an early setback after the Boomers opened with a 10-point loss to Slovenia.
Led superbly by Phoenix Suns NBA star Goran Dragic, Slovenia impressed in a wire-to-wire 90-80 victory in Saturday’s Group D encounter in Gran Canaria, Spain.
San Antonio centre Aron Baynes shone for Australia, equalling Dragic’s game-high output of 21 points and seven rebounds, but the Boomers paid the price for some sloppy defending at times.
The defeat comes as a significant blow to Australia’s hopes of topping the group but they don’t have to wait long for a chance to get their campaign back on track.
Andrej Lemanis’ side faces South Korea in its second group game on Sunday (2130 AEST).
“It’s going to make (topping the group) difficult for us but coming into the tournament we spoke about not getting too high or too low regardless of the outcome of the games,” head coach Lemanis said.
“It’s a tournament situation so for us the most important thing now is to play well (against South Korea), that’s all we can concentrate on.”
Australia shot at 51 per cent from the field, to Slovenia’s 57 per cent, and Lemanis was encouraged by his side’s attack.
However he rued an inability to close down Slovenia’s opportunities as the European side notched 12 offensive rebounds.
“For us to come in and score 80, that puts you in a pretty good position to win the game,” Lemanis said.
“It was a pretty good offensive performance but there’s just those key moments in the game.
“When you’re playing quality opposition like that, one of the things you can’t do is generate their momentum for them.”
Despite missing their two biggest stars, Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut, a Boomers squad blending exciting youth and experience has talked up its chances of winning the nation’s first ever medal at the quadrennial event.
With four of six teams reaching the knockout phase, the Boomers will still be favoured to progress but Saturday’s outing left plenty of room for improvement.
Slovenia started strongly and were always in control in the first half as the Boomers struggled to deal with Dragic’s creativity and accuracy from outside the arc.
The Boomers trailed by 13 points midway through the second quarter but fought back well to cut the deficit to 49-43 at halftime.
Australia came out firing in the second half, clawing back to within one point on the back of some crucial baskets from veteran David Anderson (14 points).
However Slovenia, who also had handy contributors in Domen Lorbek (13 points) and Zoran Dragic (10), pushed out to a 16-point lead that proved crucial as the Boomers staged a late fightback.
Exciting talent and Utah Jazz NBA draft pick Dante Exum had a quiet World Cup debut, failing to score in around 11 minutes off the bench.
The decision to use 19-year-old Exum so sparingly drew criticism from another young Australian basketball star Ben Simmons, who missed out on World Cup selection.
“What’s the point of having so much talent on a team if you don’t use it?,” the US high school star wrote on Twitter.