The Tall Ferns have put the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup on notice today, following their gutsy 66-64 victory over Korea in the tournament’s first game.
After being ranked fifth – one spot behind world 11th-ranked Korea – coming into the Asia Cup, New Zealand asserted their dominance in the first half thanks in part to a 14-0 second-quarter run, then weathered a Korea comeback in the second to claim their first win over their opponents since 2019.
Penina Davidson led the Tall Ferns with 24 points and 10 rebounds, along with 3 steals and 2 blocks in a dominant effort against Korea. Charlisse Leger-Walker added 20 points and Tera Reed registered 14 points and 11 rebounds. Krystal Leger-Walker chipped in 4 points and 5 rebounds, making arguably the play of the game in the fourth as she ripped the ball out of Korea’s hands with 25 seconds remaining and dished to Davidson for the go-ahead basket.
For Korea, centre Ji Su Park tallied 18 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks, doing most of her damage in the second half as Korea fought out of their deficit. Leeseul Kang added 18 points (4/7 from outside) and Danbi Kim had 14, while Jihyun Park registered 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
The game began with the Tall Ferns building up a 8-0 lead thanks to scores from Charlisse and Reed; New Zealand locked in on defense from the onset and aggressive on offense. The lead built to 20-8 by the end of quarter, with Davidson scoring at will – 12 points on 6-7 shooting – against her taller opponent in Park.
The run continued in the second with New Zealand going on a 6-0 run; then back-to-back scores by Reed and Charlisse helped put the Tall Ferns ahead 34-12. Korea struggled to put the ball in the basket, as evidenced by Park’s woes – the 6’6” centre held to just 2 pts on 1-11 shooting.
Half time saw New Zealand take a 41-25 lead into the break, with a trio of Tall Ferns in double figures; Davidson 15, Charlisse 13 and Tera 11. The Kiwis shot 53% from the field – scoring 30 of their 41 points in the paint – while holding Korea to just 27%, with the Kiwis winning the rebounding battle 24-19.
It was a different story in the second half, as Korea came back from the locker room with a renewed energy. Embarking on an 11-0 run, which included a pair of big blocks from Park, Korea closed the gap to 6 before a steal and breakaway layup by Davidson stymied their run. With the Tall Ferns going cold from the field thanks to Korea’s zone defense, New Zealand was outscored 21-11 in the period – but maintained a 6 point margin heading into the final quarter.
Looking to re-establish control in the fourth, the Tall Ferns built the lead back to 10 points early. But with fatigue a factor – Davidson playing without a rest during the game – Korea were able to tie the game up at 60 apiece on a layup from Park with less than four minutes left. Both teams traded baskets over the next few minutes, before a game-changing sequence with 25 seconds left; Krystal hustling to regain possession following a Tall Ferns miss and pushing the ball to Davidson for the go-ahead score.
Speaking after the game, Tall Ferns head coach Guy Molloy praised his team for their perseverance in securing the win.
“It’s a great outcome by this team, their preparation shone through in the fact that we were able to get such a commanding lead early in the game; we fully expected that Korea would come back at some point and so our tenacity of our players shone through,” says Molloy.
“We were able to get sufficient defense stops as the fouling and fatigue built and worked against us, so it’s a big win for our program and I’m very proud of our team.”
Molloy also praised the individual efforts of his players on the court.
“Amazing job by Penina, playing all 40 minutes in the game was really impressive and the defensive job she did on Park was critical. She stayed out of foul trouble and did an amazing job with a big double-double – and of course put us in front [with her score] at the end of the game.
“Charlisse showed her maturity in the point guard spot, she’s such a good scorer and was probing off the screens and looking to get the ball where it needed to go. The more she plays, the more she’ll adjust to this level of competition and continue to get better.
“And Tera had a fantastic first half, she’s so quick – with Kalani Purcell out of the programme [due to the birth of her child], to get Tera as a replacement is great – she’s so fast, probably the fastest girl on the team, and was causing all sorts of damage driving and playing tough.”
The Tall Ferns next face China from 7pm NZT on Tuesday 27 June, in their second game of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2023. Watch this game live – and free – on Spark Sport, or follow the game online here.
New Zealand 66 – Davidson 24 PTS & 10 REB | C. Leger-Walker 20 PTS | Reed 14 PTS & 11 REB | K. Leger-Walker 4 PTS & 5 REB | Dalton 2 PTS | Tupaea 2 PTS & 4 REB
Korea 64 – Ji Su Park 18 PTS & 10 REB | Kang 18 PTS | Kim 14 PTS | Jihyun Park 6 PTS & 6 REB & 6 AST
Quarter scores: 20-12, 41-25, 52-46, 66-64.
Full box score: http://bbnz.link/1fm7a