On the back of a tremendous defensive effort and an outstanding second half three point shooting performance the Tall Ferns claimed Commonwealth Games bronze with a 74-58 win against Canada at the Gold Coast Convention Centre on Saturday evening.
Despite losing the rebound count to the taller Canadians 47-39 the Tall Ferns pressure defence forced their opponents into 24 turnovers giving then double figure fast break points. However it was the second half shooting performances of the oldest member of the team, Natalie Taylor, and the youngest, Charlisse Leger-Walker, that eventually clinched the medal.
With the Tall Ferns leading 34-26 at half-time Taylor was simply unstoppable in the third period scoring no fewer than six threes from just seven attempts to break the game open.
The Canadians, ranked number five in the world compared with New Zealand’s 42nd positioning staged something of a comeback in the fourth but Leger-Walker showed maturity beyond her years, calmly sinking four triples to seal a deserved win.
It was a win that gave Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy an immense amount of satisfaction. “Superb, very pleased for the girls to get some international success. It has been a great tournament for us. We were a bit over our heads yesterday but the team bounced back today with tremendous energy. Defensively we were great and we found our shooting range in the second half. Charlisse and Nat in particular found their shot, found their range.
“The team have worked really hard and most of our wins were by big margins so that has been satisfying,’ he added.
The outstanding Natalie Taylor couldn’t ever remember making six threes in a single quarter as she reflected on a successful tournament.
“This finish is really sweet for us because we have come together, playing a new style, in a very short space of time. We have made so much improvement in that time – it’s been an awesome few weeks and I am so happy.”
Rookie Leger-Walker may not be able to celebrate with her teammates tonight. “It’s such a good feeling, I know a lot of the girls are going out tonight but I’m still 16 so we will have to see what happens,” she said.
On a more serious note she was confident taking the scoring load in the fourth period. “We had to come back as a team after Canada started a bit of a come back in the. Guy has shown a lot of faith in me especially giving me a starting role and he encourages us to take the shot if we are open,” said the delighted teenager.
The experienced trio of Micaela Cocks (16 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists), Kalani Purcell (5 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals) and Toni Farnworth (9 points and 5 rebounds) played crucial roles but it was very much a collective effort that carried the Tall Ferns to the win
Earlier Leger-Walker had opened the scoring and Josie Stockill, promoted to the opening lineup, landed a three on the next play. A couple of transition baskets followed as the Tall Ferns tried to force the pace against their bigger opponents.
Cocks scored after a Jordan Hunter steal and Canada needed a timeout trailing 13-7.
An And 1 play from Purcell aided the Kiwi cause as they led 16-12 at quarter time.
Cocks moved into double figures with a triple but Canada closed to within a point (23-22) four minutes into the second quarter. Farnworth went coast-to coast and a baseline three from Hunter, one of the shining lights in the loss to Australia the previous day, kept the Kiwis ahead.
Purcell came up with a terrific scrambling defensive effort followed by a steal and layup to propel New Zealand to a 34-26 half-time lead.
Taylor (18 points, 5 rebounds) dominated the third period and Leger-Walker (18 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) provided the exclamation marks in the fourth.
NZ 74 – Taylor 18, Leger-Walker 18, Cocks 16, Farnworth 9, Purcell 5, Hunter 3, Stockill 3, Paalvast 2
Canada 58 – Nofuente 18, Provo 14
Tall Ferns Pool Games
• V Malaysia, 5 April, 11.00pm, WON 86-44
• V Jamaica, 7 April, 1.30pm, WON 80-49
• V India, 8 April 7.30pm, WON 90-55
• V Mozambique, 10 April, WON 79-63 (Qualifying Final)
• V Australia, 13 April, LOST 109-50 (Semi-final)