The Tall Ferns have emerged with a stunning 83-78 victory over the Philippines, following a tense and physical encounter in the Qualification Final of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. The win came courtesy of some second-half heroics by Charlisse Leger-Walker, who scored a tournament-high 34 points along with 6 assists – with 21 of these points coming in the second half, courtesy of an array of tough layups and clutch jumpers.
The win catapults New Zealand into the Asia Cup semi-finals for the first time in competition history, while also giving them an invitation to an Olympic qualification event in February 2024 – moving the Tall Ferns one step closer to their first Olympics berth since 2008.
While Charlisse provided many of the game’s highlights, she wasn’t alone in securing this win. Tera Reed had a dominant performance with 23 points and 7 rebounds – sinking 9-12 shots from the charity stripe – while Penina Davidson had another double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. And Tahlia Tupaea had another all-around effort with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.
New Zealand was able to shake off a surprising performance from Jhazmin Joson, who had 15 points off the bench – after shooting only 2-17 from the field in the Asia Cup coming into this game – along with 15 points and 8 rebounds from Afril Bernardino. Jack Animam added 14 points and 11 rebounds, with star guard Vanessa De Jesus held to just 4 points on 2/10 shooting.
New Zealand built up an early 8-4 lead, Tupaea in control early as she assisted on all three Tall Ferns baskets and bagged a trio of steals. The Philippines resorted to fouling the Kiwis on almost every possession, likely aware the Tall Ferns were last in free throw percentage heading into this game – a move that backfired as New Zealand sank 7-8 free throws in the period.
Up 21-15 after the first quarter, the second saw back-and-forth runs from both teams; Philippines going on a 7-0 run to narrow the deficit to three, before New Zealand responded with a 6-0 tear of their own. The Philippines recovered with back-to-back three pointers, showing immense confidence in their shooting ability by going 5-8 on triples in the quarter. The half finished with New Zealand up 45-41, despite the Philippines shooting better from the field (17/36 versus 15/33); the Tall Blacks hitting 13-15 of their free throws to stay on top.
The third quarter hasn’t always been kind to the Tall Ferns in the 2023 Asia Cup, and this game was no different as the Philippines embarked on a 7-0 run early in the period to take a 50-45 lead. Charlisse took control at this point, going on a personal 10-0 scoring run – including two tough layups and back-to-back triples – the icing on a cake a pull-up jumper as the buzzer sounded, giving her 14 for the quarter. Despite her heroics, the Kiwis trailed by 1 heading into the final quarter.
Charlisse’s hot streak continued in the fourth with her layup to start the quarter, with sister Krystal scoring a layup of her own to restore the Kiwi’s lead at 74-72 with 6 minutes left. Following a layup by Bernardino to close the gap to 76-81 for the Philippines, they wouldn’t score again; Charlisse sinking an unbelievable reverse layup late to register her 34th point and earn New Zealand a well-deserved victory.
Tall Ferns head coach, Guy Molloy paid tribute to the team following the win.
“It’s an amazing win for our programme to get us into the top four of this tournament, so I’m trying to come to terms with that and celebrate that; and on the other hand that was a gritty and relentless Filipino team that have improved so much, they’ve had an outstanding tournament. We definitely want to celebrate what we’ve been able to achieve so far,” says Molloy.
Charlisse Leger-Walker echoed her coaches’ comments and recognised the significance of this win.
“I’m just so happy for our team, we’ve put so much effort into getting into this position and finally making the top four, so just super happy for our team and looking forward to playing in the semi-finals,” says Charlisse.
“I think coming into this game we all knew it was going to be a battle, they have a different style of play so we knew we had to come in and make adjustments on the go. I think I was in a position tonight where I just had to step up and focus on my finishing; getting points on the board when other things weren’t working.
“A big credit the girls for staying with it, these games really can go one way or the other so the leadership we had out there – keeping composure and poise right up to the end of the game is what got us over the line. I’m just so proud of how we came out and how we finished that game.”
Next up for the Tall Ferns is a clash with defending champions Japan in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup semi-finals, at 7pm NZT Saturday 1 July. Watch this game live – and free – on TVNZ+.
New Zealand 83 – C. Leger-Walker 34 PTS & 6 AST | Reed 23 PTS & 7 REB | Davidson 10 PTS & 11 REB | Tupaea 5 PTS & 5 REB & 5 AST | Dalton 4 PTS | Beck 3 PTS | Tamilo 2 PTS | K. Leger-Walker 2 PTS
Philippines 78 – Bernardino 15 PTS & 8 REB | Joson 15 PTS & 7 REB | Animam 14 PTS & 11 REB | Castillo 9 PTS | Cabinbin 7 PTS
Quarter scores: 21-15, 45-41, 68-69, 83-78.
Full box score: http://bbnz.link/gn7a3