By Lauren Rosenberg
AUCKLAND – The New Zealand Tall Ferns were a 12-point win away from returning to the Olympics for the first time since they competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The odd part about this end is that they beat Korea with a score of 69-63 in the final game of the pre-qualification round, which then allowed for Korea to qualify and move onto the Olympic qualifiers in February alongside Group A opponent, China.
New Zealand started off the pre-qualification round with a blowout win,over the eventual winless Philippines, doubling their end result, with a score of 111-58.
The Tall Ferns were led by power forward Tessa Boaginni and center Penina Davidson, who both scored 16 points. Boaginni shot 100% from the floor, 6/6 overall and 4/4 from beyond-the-arc with a +19. Davidson stole the show and dominated in all aspects. She shot an impressive 8/12 from the field, 66.7% clip and copped 11 boards for a double-double for a +20.
The Philippines did their best to try and combat the “ferns.” Small forward Afril Bernardino led the way with 17 points and shot 50% from the field, 77.8% from the charity stripe and recorded 4 blocks. Unfortunately for the Philippines, her efforts weren’t enough as she had a -40 +/- and. The team averaged an embarrassing -57 +/- with every single player being in the negatives.
The next matchup was against the powerhouse, China. On Day 1, China was upset by Korea 81-80. China was looking to bounce back from that game while New Zealand was looking to hand the Chinese another upset. The odds were heavily against the Tall Ferns and, despite the loss, they battled the whole way through.
China shooting guard Li Meng, combo-guard Wang Siyu, small forward Shao Ting and center Li Yueru took control of the game, each recording double digit points, 18, 14, 11 and 13 respectively. Yuero shot an impressive 85.7% from the field and added seven boards. Combined, they shot 69.9% from the field and completely bullied the “ferns” on both the interior and exterior. WNBA New York Liberty rookie Han Xu added 4 blocks to help bolster the interior defensive post presence.
Despite China dominating on all ends, New Zealand was not looking to give up. Power forward Kalani Purcell and small forward Ashley Karaitiana dominated throughout the entirety of the game. Purcell led the team and the game with 22 points 53.3% shooting from the field to go along with five rebounds, four assists and a steal. Karaitiana recorded 17 points on an impressive 70% clip. Davidson struggled on the interior with having the heavy task of guarding the 6’7” Yuero. Yuero shutdown Davidson, allowing her to only record 8 points on 36.4 percent shooting and 8 rebounds but she did record three steals.
At the half, New Zealand was down 50-29. When all thought this game was over, their defense proved they weren’t going to go down without a fight.
The third quarter was the Stella Beck show. The Tall Fern point guard was a one woman show on defense, but she got the boost from fellow point guard Micaela Cocks. Cocks started off the defensive run with transition steals at the 5:54 mark in the third quarter. After that, Beck took over.
Beck went around a screen to block Chinese guard Li Yuan’s midrange attempt at the 2:21 mark. With 0.8 seconds left in the third quarter, the 5’11” guard came out of nowhere and had a huge block on the 6’7” Chinese center, Li Yueru down low.
The Tall Ferns were able to tie the third quarter at 19 a piece but the Chinese won the fourth quarter 25-23, with New Zealand only losing the second half by two. China defeated New Zealand with a final score of 94-71.
New Zealand’s final matchup and last hope to move onto the Olympic qualifiers was a battle against the Koreans, who upset China on Day 1 with a score of 81-80. But this matchup wasn’t a normal win and move on deal. In order for New Zealand to move onto the next round, they would have to beat Korea by 12 due to there being a three-way tie between China, Korea and New Zealand.
In section D of the FIBA rulebook, it states the rules of what happens when there is a tie in records. D.1.3 explains that if more than two teams have the same record, there is added criteria. As written in the rulebook, the criteria are, higher game points difference of the games between them, higher number of game points scored in the games between them, higher game points difference of all games in the group and higher number of game points scored in all games in the group. The full explanation and examples are presented from pages 79-83.
For this matchup, New Zealand would be without Karaitiana due to a concussion caused by being decked and knocked to the ground multiple times the day before against China.
The Tall Ferns started the game against the Koreans with fire. They took charge in the first quarter leading 21-8. Davidson won the tip off but it was center Ji Su Park who got the Koreans on the board first with a 2-point jumper. After that, it was all New Zealand.
Shooting guard Antonia Edmondson started off quick with a converted four-point-play to get the Tall Ferns rolling. Davidson took over with offensive and defensive prowess. She recorded four rebounds, one of them on the offensive end, and two blocks. It seemed as if the game was set to be a blowout but that would change.
Korea took advantage of New Zealand turnovers and rallied back into the game, winning the final three quarters.
Edmondson started off the second quarter with another three and then two quick free throws. Davidson would end up with a steal but a failed three point attempt in transition by Cocks would kickstart the struggles. Out of nowhere, the Koreans would go on a 5-0 run boosted by forward Danbi Kim capitalizing on a Davidson turnover, going coast-to-coast for a layup. Kim would start the run with another layup with Park converting on two free throws. Kim would end up with another steal passing it over to guard Leeseul Kang to set up guard Hyejin Park for a three. Keng would record a steal and be granted two free throws after a technical foul was called on Purcell. Forward Jung Eun Kim would contribute to the party with a three of her own. Going into the half, New Zealand saw their lead get cut to nine with the score 28-37.
The same struggles continued from the second quarter to the entirety of the second half. In the third quarter, Davidson showed up for her team recording 10 points and 5 rebounds, 3 offensive and 2 defensive. J.E. Kim took over for Korea recording 6 points with their whole team spreading the rock.
The fourth quarter was pivotal for New Zealand. They were looking to take control as they did in the first quarter and run with not only the win but the 12 point requirement. Purcell and Davidson would carry the majority of the load. Shooting guard Chvannah Paalvst would contribute a three, but otherwise it was a game of hot potato between Purcell and Davidson.
Both teams didn’t perform too well in the fourth, with Korea scoring 15 and New Zealand scoring 14. Right when the final buzzer rang, New Zealand had the win but Korea had the point differential to move onto the Olympic qualifiers. The Tall Ferns defeated the Koreans with a score of 69-64, 8 points away from what was required for them to move on.
For Korea, Kang, J E Kim and J S Park dominated the whole way through. Kang shot an impressive 5/6, 83.3%from the field, with all her points coming from beyond the arc with +9. Kim would play for all 40 minutes of the game and record 17 points on a mediocre 30% from the field, 14.3% from three and 38.5% from the charity stripe. Park would record a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds as well as 6 assists on 30.8% shooting.
For New Zealand, Edmondson showed up recording a personal series high 15 points with 4 rebounds assists. Purcell and Davidson were the stars of the game. Both would end the game with a double-double. Purcell recorded 16 points on 60% shooting from the field adding 10 rebounds and 6 assists with a +16. Davidson would continue her domination and record 24 points on 57.9%t shooting, 15 rebounds, 8 offensive and 7 defensive, and 3 blocks for a +3.
Korea and China, as well as Japan, automatic bid to the Olympics because they are the host country, and Australia will be moving on from Group B to compete in February for the final 12 spots to represent their country in Tokyo in 2020.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Tall Ferns as they weren’t able to secure the 12 point win needed for a hopeful return to the Olympics after a twelve year drought. The future is bright for the Tall Ferns as they will look to build on this tournament and continue to fight their way up for success in future international tournaments.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org