By REYNALD MAGALLON
BOCAUE, Bulacan – Italy overcame a huge Angola scare, 81-67, to open its Group A campaign in the 2023 FIBA World Cup at the Philippine Arena here on Friday, Aug. 25.
Struggling to shake off the hard-fighting Angolans, the Azzurri leaned on an 8-0 spurt bridging the third and the fourth quarters to create the much needed separation and avoid any disastrous start to the tournament.
NBA player Simone Fontecchio, as expected, led the way for the Italians with 19 points and five rebounds while Stefano Tonut added 18.
“I think in first half, we’re a little bit nervous, little bit tense. It’s pretty much normal in the first game in a tournament like this. But we got the win that’s the most important thing tonight,” said Fontecchio after the game .
Giampaolo Ricci chipped in 12 for Italy which didn’t look like the same team that went 7-0 in its tuneup games in the lead up to the World Cup.
The three-point shooting, which was one of the Azzurri’s main weapons, was missing in their opening game, posting an awful 5-of-31 clip from deep, allowing the Time Nacional to basically keep in step with world No. 10 Italians.
Italy actually started out ice cold as Angola took a 9-2 lead in the first five minutes. The Azzurri did manage to recover and take the lead for the first time at 24-23 after a Nicolo Melli dunk but they never really got into a groove enough to shake off the Angolans.
Behind the efforts of Childe Dundao, who had 19 points, and NBA big man Bruno Fernando, who added 13 points and five rebounds, the Time Nacional actually stayed within striking distance, 40-43 at the break.
Angola was even tied with Italy, 57-all late in the third before the Azzurri scored four-straight points to end the quarter and fuel the pivotal run heading into the final frame.
Italy faces up against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Dominican Republic on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum while Angola fights for its dear life against Gilas Pilipinas also in the main event at the same venue.