The CPA Australia NBL All Australian team has fallen to China 57-49 in a see-sawing and physical battle in Nanning on Friday night.
The home team pushed limits defensively in the second half and the Aussies had no answers, scoring just 18 points in the final 20 minutes.
It was a different story early as the Aussies turned their own pressure defence into offence, establishing a double-figure lead in the second term.
A key factor was the sweet shooting of Todd Blanchfield, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the opening half, including three from long range and a strong drive to the basket.
But as the visitors’ pressure waned after intermission China were able to feed their dangerous big men, punishing the undersized Australians with 48 of their 57 points coming from inside the arc.
Emerging superstar Zou Yu Chen led the way for the hosts with 13 points at 83 per cent, the teenager making a strong early claim for a berth at the Rio Olympics.
His partner in frontcourt crime, Li Mu Hao, was also a handful, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three big blocks.
Li got China underway with an impressive post move, and when the experienced Zhou Peng hit a pull-up three the large home crowd was rocking.
But Melbourne’s Majok Majok made a pair of tough buckets inside – one on an exquisite feed from King Jason Cadee – and Jesse Wagstaff checked in and took over the offensive glass.
The Wildcats sixth man finished with a game-high five o-boards, those extra possessions starving the home team of opportunities and setting up a 15-9 quarter-time advantage.
Three-pointers from Clint Steindl and Cadee midway through the second period extended their margin to 10, and it could have been much more had the likes of Daniel Kickert and Tom Garlepp been converting with their usual efficiency.
China narrowed the gap thanks to their free-throw dominance, but once again it was Blanchfield who responded, putting his team ahead 31-20 lead with his third triple.
Honourary Aussie Mickell Gladness – who only arrived in the gym moments before tip-off – checked in and spectacularly swatted Li Gen’s driving attempt, but that would be the final highlight for the visitors.
China were a different team defensively after the main break, guards Sui Ran and Fang Shuo disrupting the Aussie offence with their relentless physical pressure.
At the other end, Zou Yu Chen and Li Mu Hao were proving too big, too strong, while swingman Ding Yan Yu Hang was getting to the basket at will.
After a string of three-point plays in quick succession the hosts took the lead midway through the third term and never looked back, their stingy defence ensuring there would be no Aussie resurgence.
Game Two is Sunday night at 9.30pm AEST on Fox Sports and nbl.com.au/china.