Basketball: Tall Ferns' Olympic dream wilts

Lisa Wallbutton. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today
Lisa Wallbutton. Photo / Hawkes Bay Today

The New Zealand women's basketball team's Olympic dreams are over and the fact they won't be in London is something they are struggling to deal with.

The Tall Ferns were beaten 54-51 by Argentina at the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Ankara, Turkey, today and that result, on the back of yesterday's heavy loss to the Czech Republic, means they are out of the running for one of the five remaining sports in the London draw.

They had their chances to beat Argentina, even having a shot to take a go-ahead basket with 13 seconds remaining, but couldn't convert.

"Emotions are pretty fresh, pretty raw,'' Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama said. "You struggle to put words to put words together.

"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.''

The Tall Ferns faced a battle to qualify for London. They went into the tournament ranked 16 in the world and were trounced by the Czech Republic, the world's fourth-ranked side, in yesterday's opening game. They targeted the match against Argentina, ranked 12, and could have progressed to the quarter-finals with victory.

They started well against Argentina and Tall Ferns captain Natalie Taylor found her range from beyond the arc but momentum swung late in the second quarter and the South Americans took a 32-28 lead into halftime.

Argentina built on that in the third quarter, jumping out to a 10-point lead, as New Zealand turned the ball over and conceded offensive rebounds. But Taylor got the Ferns within two points and with, 34 seconds left on the clock, they had the chance to engineer a go-ahead basket but forward Jillian Harmon missed.

Taylor led her troops from the front with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals, while Antonia Edmondson was another to help the cause with 10 points. Veteran forward Carolina Sanchez was the best of the South Americans with 16 points.

The Czech Republic and Argentina, who meet tonight in their final pool game, will progress to the quarter-finals and New Zealand must now set their sights on next year's FIBA Oceania championship in the hope of qualifying for the 2014 world championships.

Kereama said there were a number of areas that could be improved in women's basketball but it was a constant struggle.

"There are a number of things in women's basketball that need to be reviewed, but it comes down to funding,'' he said. "More support would be nice, but we had what we considered a pretty good preparation.

"The biggest difference between our programme and the other teams here is that their players are fulltime basketballers and the national team is their job. We're coming together to get our fix of basketball over two weeks, sometimes a month like we've just had. We had to jam a lot of stuff into 12 heads over a couple of weeks.

"It would be nice to have a really robust selection process over a period of time and give ourselves as much opportunity to implement our structures. We're not in a position to do that right now. We find ways to deliver a good programme to players, but you always hope for more.''

Argentina 54 (Carolina Sanchez 16, Debora Gonzalez 10) New Zealand 51 (Natalie Taylor 19, Jillian Harmon 12, Antonia Edmondson 10). HT: 32-28.

- APNZ

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