Australia survived a late scare against Mexico to chalk up their third straight basketball World Cup victory and lock up a top-three spot in Group D.
It is the first time in 16 years the Boomers have strung together three World Cup wins, and it kept alive their slim hopes of topping the group – a result that won’t be determined until the current leader, Slovenia, takes on the world No.4 Lithuania after Australia face Angola in their final group match on Thursday night (AEST).
But Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis made it clear after the 70-62 victory over Mexico that he wouldn’t lose any sleep over the results of other matches.
He was more impressed with how his team had backed up their draining upset victory of Lithuania on Tuesday.
Victory over Mexico didn’t come easily for the Boomers, who had to scrap until the dying minutes despite another excellent performance from impressive centre Aron Baynes.
The San Antonio Spurs big man revelled in his dual with Mexico’s Gustavo Ayon, racking up 10 of his game-high 21 points in the opening six minutes of the match.
Despite leading at both quarter-time and the half, Australia didn’t stamp their mark on the match until underrated guard Ryan Broekhoff went on a scoring blitz in the third term – shooting a perfect four-from-four from beyond the arc as they opened up a 16-point lead.
But it was a rare offensive burst in a mostly dogged effort typified by their fourth-quarter defence.
To have that aggressive mindset to look to score is something that takes effort.
The hard slog was embodied in the efforts of Joe Ingles, who less than 24 hours before had lit up Lithuania with a performance that had NBA scouts sitting up and taking notice.
Against Mexico, the versatile 26-year-old was held scoreless and didn’t even take a shot until his one attempt in the fourth quarter, instead playing a distributing role by dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds.
Lemanis noted Ingles had played 36 minutes the previous evening and admitted it was clear even in warm-up that his star small forward was fatigued.
“To have that aggressive mindset to look to score is something that takes effort,” Lemanis told reporters.
“…Today I think he didn’t quite have the mindset to be a scorer.”
Curiously, finishing third in the group could actually be more beneficial than finishing second.
While second place would provide an easier round-of-16 match against a lower-ranked Group C opponent, it would also put whoever ends up there on a collision course with the powerhouse Team USA in the quarter-finals – providing the biggest roadblock to Australia’s goal for their first-ever WC medal.
“We’ve ticked off the number one thing of qualifying, going through to (the knock-out games in) Barcelona, somewhere in the top three,” Lemanis said.
“We can’t affect a lot of what happens with the outcome (of the Lithuania-Slovenia game).”