The Tall Ferns have suffered a 52-88 loss in the semi-finals of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup tonight, falling to defending champs Japan – who extend their streak to 17 straight games unbeaten and look the favourites to win their sixth straight Asia Cup final.
New Zealand couldn’t halt Japan’s offensive onslaught, as the competition’s best-scoring team hit 14 triples in an impressive shooting display. Their defense was equally on point, forcing the Kiwis into 24 turnovers and stifling numerous drives to the basket by locking down the perimeter and constantly harassing the ballhandler.
Charlisse Leger-Walker led the Kiwis with 14 points but struggled from the field, shooting 5/14 overall. Tahlia Tupaea added 12 points – all in the second half – with Penina Davidson held to just 2 points on 1/4 shooting, as Japan did a stellar job of denying passes to her in the paint.
The Kiwis received a welcome boost from their bench, with Esra McGoldrick tallying 5 points & 9 rebounds and Ritorya Tamilo adding 7 points of her own – both players also recording crowd-pleasing blocks during the contest.
For Japan, Stephanie Mawuli led all scores with 17 points (on 7/9 shooting) and 6 rebounds, while Monica Okoye scored 16; Aika Hirashita and Nako Motohashi with 10 apiece. Japan’s top-scoring duo of Mai Yamatomo and Himawari Akaho combined to score just 5 points on 2/7 shooting – but that didn’t matter as Japan converted 52% of their shots and made just 5 turnovers for the game.
The first quarter began with Japan building a commanding 9-1 lead after four minutes; New Zealand going 0-4 during that stretch and committing a trio of turnovers. Davidson broke the drought by scoring inside on a nice feed from Beck, but Japan instantly responded at the other end. The lead continued to build as Japan scored on a corner triple – a sign of things to come – the quarter ending with the Kiwis down 11-24 thanks to a 4/13 effort from the field.
Charlisse began asserting herself on offense in the second period, scoring 9 straight points to bring her personal tally to 12 mid-way through the period – her efforts helping to narrow New Zealand’s deficit to 8. But the turnovers continued, as Japan embarked on a blistering 12-0 run and held New Zealand scoreless for nearly a 5-minute stretch; their 23-point quarter allowing the defending champs to take a 47-25 lead into the half.
Japan’s suffocating pressure on the Kiwis continued in the third, forcing the Tall Ferns into a pair of shot clock violations in first 4 minutes; meanwhile Japan’s shots continued to fall as they sank three straight triples to push the lead out to 58-30. New Zealand provided some bright spots in the period, led by Tupaea’s 8 third-quarter points, while McGoldrick impressed by blocking a shot and then hitting a three pointer on the ensuing possession.
Heading into the final quarter down 38-66, both teams turned to their bench in the fourth; Josie Trousdell (nee Stockill) and Tupaea both chipping in with 4 points apiece. According to Tall Ferns head coach Guy Molloy, the final score of 88-52 serves as both a testament to the dominance of Japan over the past decade, and a barometer for New Zealand’s own high-performance programme.
“Japan are always ready to give you a basketball lesson, and I think that was a great experience for our team; I continue to be very proud of our team and the way we try to solve the problems out on the floor,” says Molloy.
“They’re one of the ultimate teams in the world where if you don’t do everything perfectly you get punished for it; so I think there are a lot of good learnings from that game and again I’m proud that we continued to fight and got stronger as the game went on.”
Tupaea says that the squad can take a lot of learning and positives away from this game.
“Japan are an awesome team and it was a great experience to play against them; hopefully we learn for the future from this game, whether it’s how we start the game or knowing what we’re doing in our defensive roles – because we all know we can score, so if we’re in the game defensively it’s always helpful.”
Next up for the Tall Ferns is their final game in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup – the bronze medal game at 2.30pm NZT on Sunday 2 July against trans-Tasman rivals Australia. Watch this game live – and free – on TVNZ+.
New Zealand 52 – C. Leger-Walker 14 PTS & 6 AST | Tupaea 12 PTS | Tamilo 7 PTS | McGoldrick 2 PTS & 9 REB | Beck 4 PTS & 6 REB | Stockill 4 PTS | Davidson 2 PTS | Dalton 2 PTS | K. Leger-Walker 2 PTS
Japan 88 – Mawuli 17 PTS & 6 REB | Okoye 16 PTS & 5 REB | Motohashi 10 PTS | Hirashita 10 PTS | Hoshi 7 PTS
Quarter scores: 11-24, 25-47, 38-66, 52-88.
Full box score: http://bbnz.link/gn7a3