Isaac Fotu was given a stage to shine for New Zealand, and he delivered.
After getting off to an 0-3 start, the Tall Blacks were in must-win situations in their final two games of the FIBA World Cup group stage. And win they did — both times — in Spain’s Bilbao Arena to advance to the 16-team knockout stage.
Fotu, Hawaii basketball’s junior forward, put up a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double in a 73-61 win over Ukraine on Wednesday. He followed that up with 18 points and eight boards as New Zealand edged Finland 67-65 on Thursday.
Thus, New Zealand (2-3) will face Lithuania in the knockout first round on Sunday. Lithuania won Group D with a 4-1 record.
The Tall Blacks finished fourth in Group C by winning the head-to-head tiebreaker against Ukraine. As expected, Team USA won the group by going 5-0.
Now, Fotu will miss some extra class time, but that’s a small price to pay for helping lead your country at this stage.
Fotu has come off the bench in all five FIBA games so far. His minutes were sparse early in the tournament, but he played 26 minutes against Finland while shooting 7-for-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line.
He leads his team in efficiency. Impressive but not surprising, given his field-goal percentage numbers at UH the last two seasons.
The other player with Hawaii ties in action, Vander Joaquim, scored two points in seven minutes for Angola, as his country was defeated by Slovenia 93-87. Angola finished 2-3 in Group D but missed out on advancing.
The Philippines lost to Puerto Rico to finish up at 1-4. Ex-‘Bow Jared Dillinger did not participate for Gilas Pilipinas, as he was a late cut.