The New Zealand Women’s team produced a stirring performance before falling 68-60 to Hungary at the FIBA Under 17 World Cup in Minsk, Belarus on Sunday.
Down twenty-two points early in the third period New Zealand closed to within a single point (55-54) with four minutes to play but couldn’t quite pull off a major upset against the European Championship runners-up.
The effort was even more commendable given forward Jazz Kailahi-Fulu missed all the second half with a rolled ankle after New Zealand had entered the contest two players light with the injured pair of Isabelle Cook and Kyra Paniora absent for the second game running.
Winning the rebound count (50-46) without a couple of injured forwards, against a taller Hungarian team, was testament to the effort of the Kiwis.
Guard Tara Manumaleuga paced the Kiwis with a game high 23 points and she received fine support from Sharne Pupuke-Robati (6 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists), Charlisse Leger-Walker (10 points and 10 rebounds), Helen Mathews (7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) and Tayla Dalton (4 points and 4 rebounds).
New Zealand Head Coach Lori McDaniel was understandably pleased with the performance of her charges.
“The team definitely stepped up to the challenge of making changes for the second game, going down to the wire losing by just eight points to the second best team at the European Championship is absolutely incredible.
“Our smaller players stepped up and took over from our bigs when we had injuries, the girls moved the ball well and they reduced their turnovers by almost half.
“Obviously we want to continue to work on the turnover situation because the points off turnovers for the other team is what is really hurting us. But the fact that the girls made an adjustment and came up and played a very, very good Hungarian team down to the wire is something they should be very proud of.
“It’s a testament to the coaching staff and management group that have had to make adjustments through some difficult times with injuries, added McDaniel.
Shauna Povey, injected into the starting five, opened the scoring for New Zealand with a corner three but a series of turnovers proved costly, the Kiwis giving up an 8-0 run before Manumaleuga (8 points in the opening quarter) connected with back to back baskets. Dalton scored in transition but New Zealand trailed 23-15 after ten minutes.
Matthews opened the second quarter scoring and Manumaleuga became the first player from either side into double figures as the Kiwis trimmed the deficit to 23-19.
Jazz Kailahi-Fulu, a force on the boards before being sidelined with an ankle problem, made an inside basket but Hungary responded with an 11-2 surge to lead 40-25 at half-time.
The second half began like the first with with Povey knocking down a three but the Kiwis soon fell further behind (52-30).
The Ferns responded with a 13-2 run to trim the Hungarian lead to 55-43 at the three-quarter mark.
A Mathews banked three brought smiles to the Kiwi contingent and those smiles broadened when Leger-Walker made a penetrative drive to pull New Zealand within seven (55-48) with six minutes to play.
That quickly became just a single point lead as Manumaleuga landed consecutive triples. Hungary scored four straight baskets but Manumaleuga wasn’t finished dropping her fourth three of the game after a pair of Pupuke-Robati free throws to make it a four point game (63-59).
With time running out a couple more long-range efforts failed to drop - a heartening Kiwi effort coming up just short.
NZ 60 - T Manumaleuga 23, C Leger-Walker 10p/10r/4a, H Mathews 7, S Pupuke-Robati 6/13r/5a, S Povey 6, T Dalton 4, J Kailahi-Fulu 2p/7r, M Hema 2,
Hungary 68 – A Varga 16, R Manyoky 11
New Zealand will have a day off before facing South American champions Argentina on Tuesday (tip-off 10.45pm, NZT).
New Zealand finished fourth at the FIBA Asian Championship in India last October to clinch a spot at the World Cup. The tournament is an historic occasion as it is the first FIBA Age-Group World Cup ever attended by a New Zealand Women’s team.
New Zealand U17 Team:
Ella Bradley (Waikato Basketball Association/Waikato Wizards)
Isabelle Cook (Taranaki Basketball Association/Taranaki Thunder)
Tayla Dalton (North Harbour Basketball/Harbour Breeze)
Madison Hema (New Zealand)
Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu (North Harbour Basketball/Harbour Breeze)
Charlisse Leger-Walker (Waikato Basketball Association/Waikato Wizards)
Tara Manumaleuga (New Zealand)
Helen Matthews (Canterbury Basketball)
Kyra Paniora (New Zealand)
Sharne Pupuke-Robati (Counties Manukau Basketball/Auckland Dream)
Shauna Povey (Waitakere West Basketball Inc /Auckland Dream)
Emilee Tahata (New Zealand)
The U17 World Cup fixture schedules and box scores can be found on the link below. Live streaming of all games is also be available on this link.
For more information go to www.NZ.basketball
and the @BasketballNZ social media channels: Facebook
Tournament hashtag: #FIBAU17. Team Hashtag: #BBNZU17