France goes on late blitz to blow past New Zealand, claim top group seeding in Fiba OQT
France guard Tony Parker blows by two New Zealand defenders. Jaime Campos

FRANCE went on a big fourth quarter rampage to ease past New Zealand, 66-59, and keep its unbeaten slate going to the semifinals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila on Thursday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The French leaned on the trio of Mickael Gelabale, Kim Tillie, and Thomas Heurtel to overhaul a 38-25 deficit after the team had a bad start.

Les Bleus swept their two games in Group B to take the No. 1 seeding and arrange a semifinal meeting against Group A second seed Turkey.

Tillie, Huertel, and Gelable made a three-pointer each to punctuate a huge fourth quarter run for France. Before that, Les Bleus were 0 of 14 from three-point range through three quarters.

Two free throws by Huertel, who came in to give star player Tony Parker a breather, tied the count at 52-all, before Tillie completed a three-point play to give France the lead it would never relinquish.

In all, the French outscored the Tall Blacks in the final period, 28-11.

“Our bench made the big difference in the second half,” acknowledged coach Vince Collet.

“Our ball movement was poor. We didn’t pass enough to beat their rotation, and we kept the ball too much,” he added to explain a slow start that saw them trail the Tall Blacks at the half by as much as seven points and by as many as 10 entering the fourth.

Gelebale, who previously played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, topscored for France with 11 points, seven of them in the fourth quarter, while Kim and veteran big man Boris Diaw had 10 each.

Parker had a quiet six points for France after being recalled by Collet to the bench midway through the third quarter following a slight discussion with the soft-spoken coach at the sidelines.

Nicolas Batum sat at the France bench in uniform, but wasn’t fielded in by Collet. He’s expected to see action in the semis set on Satuday.

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Corey Webster finished with 21 points for New Zealand, including five three-pointers, but failed to carry the torch for the Tall Blacks in the middle of the French’ fourth quarter explosion.

“It was a tough game for us. Our mistakes cost us the game,” admitted Corey, the older of the two Websters in the team. “But we know we can play better.

“For the most part, we played great basketball. But the ball wasn’t going to the hole when it should be,” added Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare. “But we can't dwell too much on that now.”

The Tall Blacks suffered their first loss after an inspiring 89-80 win over Gilas Pilipinas Wednesday night. Nonetheless, they still made the semis and ended up the No. 2 team in Group B, setting up a meeting with Group A top seed Canada in the next round.

The scores:

France (66) – Gelabale 11, Tillie 10, Diaw 10, Huertel 7, Lauvergne 7, De Colo 7, Parker 6, Kahudi 4, Diot 2, Pietrus 2, Moerman 0.

New Zealand (59) – C. Webster 21, T. Webster 9, Fotu 8, Abercrombie 6, Loe 6, Ili 4, Bartlett 3, Vukona 2, Anthony 0, Ngatai 0.

Quarterscores: 13-14; 23-31; 38-48; 66-59.

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