Ferns’ Olympic dream wilts
New Zealand’s chances of having a women’s basketball team at the London Olympics ended after the Tall Ferns suffered a heart-breaking 51-54 loss to Argentina at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey, today.
The result – on the back of yesterday’s loss to Czech Republic – means the Kiwis will not qualify out of their pool to contest the last five remaining spots in the London draw.
“We counted on winning this game, but we didn’t really perform up to what we hoped,” lamented captain Natalie Taylor. ”For us, certain players all need to be on the same page and today, we weren’t on the same page.
“That really hurt us against a very emotional, upbeat team.”
The Kiwis began the game stronger against their higher-ranked opponents, controlling the opening tip and immediately scoring through forward Lisa Wallbutton inside the paint. They threatened to break away and any time Argentina snatched the initiative – usually through veteran forward Carolina Sanchez – Taylor would find a three-pointer to restore the advantage.
After not finding their range from the arc at all against Czechs, the Ferns connected four times in the first half – three to Taylor and one to older sister Charmian Purcell – but would revert to previous form after the break.
Late in the second quarter, momentum switched as New Zealand began turning the ball over and conceding offensive rebounds. When forward Sandra Pavon hit from long distance late in the period, Argentina were suddenly six points up and led 32-28 at the break.
Those turnovers were gifting their rivals extra opportunities, which they hadn’t taken full toll of yet.
Soon after the restart, point guard Debora Gonzalez struck from the arc as the margin became nine points and with 10 minutes remaining, Argentina still held the upper hand at 43-37.
Midway through the final quarter, Taylor got the Ferns within two points and had a timeout with 34 seconds left to engineer a go-ahead basket. But forward Jillian Harmon missed with 13 seconds on the clock and the Ferns had to hope their rivals would slip up from the free-throw line.
Pavon missed a pair to provide faint hope, but Sanchez grabbed an offensive rebound and stepped up to convert two that sealed the win for Argentina.
“We boxed out - I believe there was a call missed,” insisted coach Kennedy Kereama. “It was just a disappointing end.
“We had a number of plays and number of shots we could’ve made, but at the end of the day, they made the big shots.”
Statistically, there wasn’t much between the two sides – New Zealand were better defensively in the second half and committed just five more turnovers during that time. Neither side shot the ball particularly well – after their 25% return from the field against the Czechs, the Ferns returned just 31% today.
But while the Argentines were only marginally better (32%), they landed seven from afar, probably the biggest difference between the teams.
“Shooting was a problem for us again,” admitted Kereama. “But I think that was more about how Argentina played us defensively.
“We knew we’d be up against a tough, physical side and the officials allowed it to be that sort of game – that could’ve tolled on a few players. Everything was being contested and we weren’t getting any easy looks at the rim.”
Taylor led her troops from the front with 19 points (6/11 FG, 3/6 3pt, 4/6 FT), six rebounds and two steals, while guard Antonia Edmondson was another to help the cause with 10 points (5/8 FG) and six rebounds. Sanchez was the best of the South Americans with 16 points (5/15 FG, 2/7 3pt, 4/4 FT).
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been building with this core group,” said Taylor. “For us, this was hopefully going to be a milestone for the group. We’re still fairly young, so hopefully we can come back from this.”
Argentina and Czech Republic will progress from Group B, and will meet in the final preliminary game tomorrow to decide quarterfinal crossovers. New Zealand must now set their sights on next year’s FIBA Oceania Championship in the hope of qualifying for the 2014 world championships.
FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Argentina 54 (Carolina Sanchez 16, Debora Gonzalez 10) New Zealand 51 (Natalie Taylor 19, Jillian Harmon 12, Antonia Edmondson 10, Michael Cocks 4, Charmian Purcell 3, Lisa Wallbutton 2, Noni Wharemate 1)
HT 32-28 (18-12)
Q3 43-37 (11-9)
FT 54-51 (11-14)