The Tall Ferns began its 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament campaign with a 70-52 loss against France in Nantes on Tuesday and now face a must win game against Cuba on Wednesday. (1.00am Thursday NZ time).
The Ferns put together a terrific opening half leading 29-27 against the world number four ranked French. Only down 52-46 at the three-quarter time mark, the Tall Ferns eventually ran out of steam losing the final stanza 18-6 in front of a raucous home crowd.
Penina Davidson made a statement on behalf of the Tall Ferns – blocking the first French scoring effort.
She could do nothing about a couple of shots that followed but Micaela Cocks tied the scores at five apiece with a triple and a brace of free throws.
Kalani Purcell scored off an in bounds play to edge the Kiwis ahead 9-8 and when Penina Davidson and Jillian Harmon made back to back baskets to give their team a 13-10 lead France called a timeout.
The Tall Ferns ended an impressive opening quarter with Josie Stockill nailing a pair of free throws to lead 17-16. The commentary team noted, “New Zealand looked impressive.”
France came out with more intent at the start of the second with big centre Isabelle Yacoubou making baskets and garnering offensive rebounds. Edmondson countered with a baseline triple to keep the Kiwis in touch, as did Chevannah Paalvast with a neat basket.
The defensive efforts of the Tall Ferns, both individually and collectively, was impressive and at the other end Stella Beck landed a long three to give the team in black a 29-27 half-time lead.
Davidson with a nice finger roll inside play opened the second half Tall Ferns scoring and Edmondson moved into double figures with a triple and pair of free throws as the scores were tied 40 points each at the mid point of the third.
Back to back baskets from France gave them the biggest lead since the opening moments of the game and coach Kennedy Kereama called a timeout to stall home team momentum.
Paalvast scored a nice back door basket off a Cocks pass and although trailing 52-46 at three-quarter time the Tall Ferns were well in the contest.
Yacoubou (19pts/11rebs) was proving the difference between the teams, her inside presence causing the Tall Ferns major problems and her back to back baskets extended the home advantage to double figures, 56-46.
From there the Tall Ferns offensive effort ground almost to a halt and, it was six minutes into the period before Stockill scored the Kiwi’s first points of the period as a brave challenge fell away, the Ferns going down 70-52.
Tall Ferns coach Kereama congratulated France on an excellent second half but felt his team went away from what was working in the first half.
“France were a lot bigger than us, they pounded it inside, we expected it, we prepared for it but we didn’t execute for 15 minutes of that game which was disappointing. Our focus now turns to Cuba who we believe, if we play as well as we did for 25 minutes and some of this game, we give ourselves a chance.
“We know if we play 40 minutes of basketball we give ourselves a chance against anybody. We know if we carry out our game plan and execute we can compete.”
Toni Edmondson felt French centre Yacoubou was the difference, “She was unstoppable, her offensive rebounding and her presence in there tonight was probably what decided the match.”
“I was really proud of our group for probably two thirds of that game. It was disappointing that we lapsed for about the last couple of minutes of the third quarter and they really stepped on us,” she said.
The Tall Ferns now have a short turn around having to face Cuba in a must win game just 18 hours later.
Tall Ferns 52 – Edmondson 10pts/6rebs, Paalvast 7, Cocks 6, Purcell 6, Stockill 6, Davidson 6pts/3 blocks, Beck 5, Harmon 4, Rooney 2
13-19 June – Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Nantes, France
Tuesday June 14, v France. 8.30pm local time (6.30am Wednesday NZ time)
Wednesday June 15 v Cuba. 3.00pm local time (1.00am Thursday NZ time)
The Tall Ferns have assembled alongside 12 other nations at the women’s qualifying tournament in Nantes, France: Spain, France, Belarus, Turkey (Europe); Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela (America’s); Cameroon, Nigeria (Africa), China, South Korea (Asia); and New Zealand (Oceania). Only the top five will earn a place in Rio.