Basketball: Heart-breaking loss for Tall Ferns as Rio dreams evaporate

Micaela Cocks looks to make a pass against Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Micaela Cocks looks to make a pass against Australia. Photo / Getty Images

The Tall Ferns lost their decisive Olympic Qualifying tie against Cuba in agonising and slightly controversial fashion overnight in Nantes going down 64-62. The Ferns exit the tournament having also lost their other pool game 70-52 to France the night before.

The scores were tied 62 apiece when a rebounding foul was called on Micaela Cocks sending Cuban captain Cepeda to the foul line to make the winning free throws with just 1.2 seconds left on the clock.

New Zealand coach Kennedy Kereama felt it was a harsh way to lose, "It's not a nice way to lose a game on a foul shooting situation when both teams are in the bonus. For us it's a tough way to go. At the end of the day there had to be a winner and a loser and unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the result."

Forward Jillian Harmon gave a herculean performance recording 25 points (9/17FG) and 14 rebounds - 21 points in the second half. Kalani Purcell and Micaela Cocks scored 9 points each, Toni Edmondson had 8 but collectively the three only shot 7 from 24 on the night.

Just 18 hours after going down to France Chevannah Paalvast opened the Tall Ferns scoring but a sluggish first quarter ended with Cuba ahead 14-10.

New Zealand began the second quarter equally slowly prompting coach Kereama to call an early timeout with his team trailing 18-10. Penina Davidson and Harmon responded with baskets but Cuba moved ahead 26-16 at the mid point of the period. Purcell and Davidson made a couple of valuable baskets but the Tall Ferns headed to the locker room 32-24 behind reflecting on a 32% (10/31) shooting effort and ice cold 0 from 9 three point shooting.

The Tall Ferns playing with much more urgency had a 5-0 run courtesy of Cocks and a Purcell triple. When Harmon made an and 1 play the Cuban lead was cut to just three points, 37-34. The momentum then swung to Cuba who reeled off a 6-0 run of their own and it took a buzzer beating three from Edmondson to keep the Kiwis in the hunt at the final break, 48-39 down.

Points from Purcell and Cocks reduced the lead to 48-43 but a harsh unsportsman like foul called on Davidson handed Cuba their first points of the quarter.

Harmon was carrying the offensive load for the Kiwis with 7 consecutive points and Purcell helped reduce the lead to 58-53 with less than 4 minutes to play.

Harmon made another four points from the foul line but the Kiwis still trailed 62-59 inside the last 30 seconds only for Micaela Cocks to knock down a three with thirteen seconds to play.

The foul call and winning Cuban free throws ensued, the Tall Ferns without time to get off a shot in the 1.2 seconds that followed.

Kereama lamented his team's slow start to the game.

"It is totally disappointing not to come away with a win. It's pretty obvious to those that watched the game we were severely flat to start the game, we lacked energy. We invested a lot of emotional energy in the game the night before (against France) and had a very short turn around and recovery. We did everything we could to be ready to play but unfortunately it took us some time to get going. Once we managed to get going I feel like we ran out of time."

Harmon was equally disappointed, "I agree with coach I thought we were pretty flat at the start as I think we had about 15 hours to turn around from last night's game. We did really well to stay in it but we just ran out of time."

- NZ Herald

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