Vucevic drops 27 to push Montenegro to a winning start
MANILA (Philippines) - He missed the FIBA EuroBasket 2022, and was eager to get back into his favorite jersey. It showed, as Nikola Vucevic's 27-point haul powered Montenegro towards a comfortable 91-71 win over Mexico.
The game opened up proceedings in the Mall of Asia Arena, in front of 6,668 fans. They tried to help Mexico get back into the game, creating a lot of noise in the stands, but then gave Vucevic and Montenegro their well deserved ovations.
Turning point: With Vucevic's dominance inside the arc and two made triples outside of the arc, Montenegro opened up a nine point lead at the break. Once he got help from Petar Popovic, who made back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter, Montenegro raced away to a 16-point lead.
Mexico tried everything, but Montenegro stayed calm, using their experience to keep their rivals at bay. There was no drama in the end and a rock-solid fourth quarter by Bosko Radovic's men was enough to protect the lead.
TCL Player of the Game: Nikola Vucevic loves big stages, and the crowd in Manila were full of "oohs" and "ahhs" each time he scored. And he did it in variety of ways: rolls and dunks, left block post ups, right block post ups, spot up threes, trailing threes in transition - it was a prototype Vucevic game.
He finished with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting, with 8 rebounds, Montenegro were +26 with him on the floor, and he had a couple of big blocks to kill all hopes of a Mexican comeback. Honorable mention goes to Kendrick Perry's 16 points and 7 assists.
Stats don't lie: Before the event, we previewed this game as the battle of styles, of one team shooting a lot, and the other making shots inside the arc. That's exactly what happened, but in reversed roles. Montenegro were the ones hitting threes, making 14-of-31, compared to Mexico's 6-of-19 shooting from the same distance.
Bottom line: With Lithuania marked as the group favorites, and Egypt taking the role of the underdog, this could be the win that gets Montenegro over the line, towards the Second Round.
Mexico will have to search for a win or two over Lithuania and Egypt to have a chance of escaping the group. Pako Cruz led them on the day with 16 points and 6 assists.
They said: "He makes my job as a point guard a lot easier. Obviously, his resume and his pedigree, what he's been able to do for his career speaks for itself. I'm just blessed and fortunate to be able to share the court with him, like I said, he makes my job easier, so I gotta make sure I make his job easier, too." - Kendrick Perry on playing with Nikola Vucevic
"Unfortunately, we lost the game. They had a really good game, they played inside and outside really well, and we couldn't control them. Like coach said, we gave them both things today and obviously, the offensive rebounds. I think that was the key to the game today." - Pako Cruz, Mexico
"Their game plan worked, they hit 14 threes, and their big star Vucevic had a great night. We threw the game in six minutes. Three minutes in the second quarter, and three at the end of the game, we gave them a 9-0 and a 10-0 run and that was the end of the game. We've been in this situation in Split two years ago, now we gotta win two games." - Omar Quintero, Mexico head coach
"It was very important to start the tournament with a win against a team that doesn't necessarily suit us. They play fast, high tempo, but we responded well. Everything we talked about in the last couple of days as a team, in the meetings and practices, we executed really well. Very good win, although we started a little bit nervous." - Nikola Vucevic, Montenegro
"Congratulations to the Mexican team for a good game, and to my players for the first win. The most important thing tonight is that we opened the tournament with a win. We started the game nervous in offense, but during almost the whole game, we were very aggressive defensively, allowing just 71 points. We need to fix the offense a little bit, 91 points, that's alright, but we made it with 11 turnovers, seven or eight in the first half." - Bosko Radovic, Montenegro coach