TURKEY and New Zealand try to crash the expected France-Canada party in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila as the semifinals gets underway at the Mall of Asia Arena Saturday.
The Tall Blacks face the Canadians first at 6:30 p.m. before the Turks go up against the top seed Les Bleus in the 9:00 p.m. main game. Winners of the semis pairings advance to the winner-take-all game Sunday for the right to play in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
Both France and Canada are unbeaten in two games heading to the crossover Final Four. The French emerged the top team in Group B, while the Canadians were no. 1 in Group A.
Although the world no. 5 French are the ones favored to go to Rio, coach Vincent Collet raised some concern especially with the way Tony Parker and Co. had to grind their way to a 66-59 win over the Tall Blacks at the end of the preliminary Thursday night after trailing by as many as 13 points early in the game.
Collet said the team could not afford to play the same against a Turkey side that has not shown so far its true strength in the tournament, but remains very dangerous nonetheless.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend. Both teams want to go to Rio, and the first step (towards it) is on Saturday,” said Collet Friday when the six-day tournament had its break.
“Turkey is a very experienced team that has the size,” added the French mentor, obviously wary of the Turks’ pair of 7-foot centers in Omer Asik and Semih Erden.
In their last meeting in a major tournament, Turkey beat France, 95-77, in the Round of 16 during the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Istanbul.
A piece of good news came France's way heading to the weekend, though, as gunner Nicolas Batum will finally suit up for the team after signing a fresh contract with the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA.
The Turks, ranked eighth in the world, are not playing their best basketball here, needing to eke past Senegal, 68-62, just to make the semis as the no. 2 team in Group A.
Coach Ergin Atarman said he doesn’t care which opponent the Turks face in the semis, but is really concern about how his team has been performing so far.
“I don’t worry for nobody. But the reality is that France is a high-capacity team,” he said. “And the reality is we’re not playing good basketball.”
Canada is also expected to have its hands full against the Tall Blacks despite cruising to the semis with victories over Turkey and Senegal.
Never mind its fourth quarter meltdown against the French, but New Zealand has so far been impressive in the tournament. The Tall Blacks booted out host team Gilas, 89-80, before bowing to France in a game they controlled three-fourths of the way.
“It’s a tough game for us. Our mistakes cost us the game, but we know we can play a lot better,” said New Zealand coach Paul Henare after the sorry loss that relegated the team to no.2 in Group B.
“We’ll take some confidence out of this game. We’ll have 48 hours to take on a good Canadian team,” he added.
Top player Corey Webster, who finished with 21 points for the Tall Blacks in the game against the French, agrees with his mentor.
“There are positive things to take on this game. Hopefully, we’ll have a good performance against Canada,” said the older of the two Webster brothers.