The Tall Ferns have got the European leg of their Olympic Qualifying Tournament build up off to a perfect start with a 70-64 overtime victory against Latvia in Riga on Friday.
It was a tight contest throughout with no more than four points separating the two teams at the end of each period. The Tall Ferns led 28-24 at half-time and despite moving out to a 37-26 advantage were pegged back in the later stages of the third and trailed 42-41 at the three-quarter mark. A tight final period saw the scores locked at 56 apiece before the Kiwis bossed the additional five minutes (14-8) to take the game.
Despite only being with the team 48 hours coach Kereama gave a start to Jillian Harmon and the move paid off in stunning fashion as the power forward produced a game high 22 points. Harmon is coming off an outstanding season in the Italian League where she averaged 19 points a game for regular season champions Le Mura Lucca and her performance delighted the coach.
"I was really happy with how both Jillian and Josie Stockill (2pts/4rebounds) have slotted into the group and for Jill to score 22 in her first game back adds some much needed scoring punch for us," said Kereama.
"It is also worth mentioning how big Micaela Cocks (19 points) was down the stretch, nailing some big perimeter shots for us. Her team mates did a very good job of finding her and part of that was because we hurt them in the paint with our Penina (Davidson) and Jillian combo"
Davidson amassed 14 points and 10 rebounds whilst guard Toni Edmondson chipped in with 10 points, her fifth consecutive double-digit contribution of the tour.
The Tall Ferns edged the rebounding contest 45-40 and despite shooting only 36% (24/66) from the field recorded a significant win against the 17th ranked nation in the world (NZ ranked 22nd).
It was a victory that pleased Kereama.
"Defence set the tone for us today as we kept them under 65 points in overtime. That is very good for us and if we want to be a contender at our major event we need to be able to lock teams down and generate easy scores from our defence.
"Again this is a step in the right direction for us and we need to continue to build on this. We play them again tomorrow and I am sure they will be ready for some of the defensive things we throw at them."
Tall Ferns 70 - Harmon 22, Cocks 19pts/6rebs, Davidson 14pts/10rebs, Edmondson 10, Purcell 3, Stockill 2
Game 2 v Latvia - Saturday May 28, tip-off 5pm local time (2.00am Sunday NZ time)
The Full Tall Ferns 2016 Tour Schedule is:
- 14-16 May - Four Nations Tournament v China, Czech Republic and Montenegro in Hengyang, Hunan Province, China.
- 19-21 May - Four Nations Tournament v China, Czech Republic and Montenegro in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia, China.
- 23-28 May - Latvia Friendlies, Riga, Latvia
- 29 May - 4 June - Four Nations Tournament v Belarus, Japan and Turkey in Minsk, Belarus.
- 5-9 June - Spain Friendlies in Asturias, Spain.
- 13-19 June - Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Nantes, France
Olympic Qualifying Tournament
The Tall Ferns will assemble alongside 12 other nations at the womens qualifying tournament in Nantes, France: Spain, France, Belarus, Turkey (Europe); Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela (Americas); Cameroon, Nigeria (Africa), China, South Korea (Asia); and New Zealand (Oceania). Only the top five will earn a place in Rio.
New Zealand has been drawn with heavyweights France (4 in the world) and Cuba (13) in their pool, with the top two teams from each pool of three qualifying for the quarterfinals. New Zealands
of 22 in the world has them clearly ranked as underdogs.
More information on the FIBA Womens Qualifying Tournament: