BEIJING With time running out in men's basketball preliminary pool play at the Beijing Olympics, the Boomers broke through and lowered the boom.
Facing the prospect of missing next week's quarterfinals with a third-straight loss, Australia (1-2) earned its first and much-needed victory, a 106-68 rout of another struggling squad in Iran (0-3), which is making its first Summer Olympics appearance in 60 years.
With the top four teams in each of the two six-team groups advancing to Wednesday's quarterfinals, Australia had earned its share of criticism back home after opening the Beijing Games with back-to-back Group A losses to Croatia (97-82) and Argentina (85-68).
And much of the finger-pointing was directed toward center Andrew Bogut, the former NBA No. 1 pick out of the University of Utah who earlier this summer signed a $75 million contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bogut, who came to Beijing nursing a very tender right ankle, failed to reach double figures in each of the first two outings. But he broke through against Iran, scoring 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting and adding a team-best seven rebounds in a brief 17 minutes of court time.
He was one of five Aussies in double figures, including an Aussie front line of fellow NBAer Chris Anstey (13 points) and European pro bangers Brad Newley (24 points) and David Andersen (10 points).
Guard Patrick Mills added 15 points and five assists.
No sense piling on Bogut, since he's been hard enough on himself, saying he's spent the past several days feeling "demoralized" after what he labeled as the two worst games he's ever played for his national team.
"I don't think we could have played any worse," he said, adding "it was good to get out and get a win and get it off our backs. I think we've turned the corner."
In Bogut's defense, besides being hampered by the sore ankle, he was a late addition to the Australian national team this summer, with prolonged contract extensions putting his Olympic participation in doubt until the last minute.
Australian coach Brian Goorjian was willing to shoulder much of the Bogut blame.
"Look at (Germany's) Dirk Nowitzki," said Goorjian. "He's an NBA all-star, close to the most valuable player in the league, and he can't carry Germany on his back. This competition is too good. Yao Ming can't carry China on his back.
"What Bogut does in our environment has been my decision and how Bogut was used, and how he was used today has been my decision," he continued. "If it doesn't go well, I think you should ask the coach."
Instead, Goorjian said his team's successes are dependent as much on Bogut's supporting cast.
"I don't think you can have a guy with you for just a week and play two (pre-Olympic exhibition) games and come into this tournament and then have the whole country go, 'Hey, this boy is supposed to carry us,"' he said. "He's a 23-year-old guy who's growing with the team, and I think that he has gotten better in each game."
Added Australian forward Matt Nielsen: "We're just 12 guys, and he (Bogut) is no different than the rest of us. It's tough when he's the only name on our team."
Of course, expectations back home Down Under may be a little high, given that Australia has never finished higher than fourth in the Summer Games.
And Bogut probably didn't do himself or his Aussie teammates any favors in the days leading up to competition.
"Some countries laugh at us before we play them," he said in a pre-Games press conference in Beijing. "So it is good fun to go in there and knock them off and see their faces at the end of the game. We like to be the underdogs and keep levelheaded, and that is the way Australia performs best when no one gives us a chance."And with two checks already in the loss column and defending European Championships champ Russia up next, Bogut has a chance to back up his word.
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