The Tall Ferns' Olympic dream is over, ended in heartbreaking fashion against South Korea in Auckland tonight.
Needing a win by at least 12 points to move into the final stage of Olympic qualifying, the Tall Ferns led by 18 after an incredible start, but saw South Korea slowly chip away at their lead to eventually lose by just four points – enough for the Koreans to progress alongside China.
New Zealand, South Korea and China all ended with two wins and one loss – the Philippines finished last in the group after three heavy defeats – but the Tall Ferns were edged out on three-way points differential due to their hefty defeat to China in their opening game.
Despite their ultimate disappointment, their 69-65 victory over South Korea was an impressive performance, toppling their favoured counterparts with a dominant rebounding display.
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The Tall Ferns claimed 51 rebounds to South Korea's 30, led by Penina Davidson who snared 15 boards – eight offensive – and added 24 points in a superb outing. She was helped by the all-round talents of Kalani Purcell (16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) as the hosts shot out to a 26-8 lead, and kept their lead around the magic 12-point marker for most of the game.
South Korea were having no luck scoring inside – shooting an abysmal 28 per cent in the paint, but their three-point shooting proved pivotal, with Leeseul Kang hitting all five attempts as she ended with a remarkable 21 points on just six shots, while Jung Eun Kim also knocked down five threes as the visitors connected as a 42.9 per cent from deep.
One three-pointer proved particularly pivotal, as down nine with two minutes to go, Hyejin Park sank a three after a Tall Ferns triple team inside, crushing the Tall Ferns' hopes of moving onto the final stage of Olympic qualifying.
South Korea were also aided by an inspirational showing by star WNBA centre Park Ji-Su, who limped through a heavily-strapped knee to finish with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. She was carried off the court at the end of the game, as South Korea rued a poor final performance, but an ultimately successful start to their campaign – the opposite emotions of New Zealand.
While the Tall Ferns could be proud of their performance despite a defeat, the same arguably can't be said of the New Zealand Breakers, who slumped to another loss in the Australian National Basketball League tonight.
Playing without Glen Rice Jr after the ANBL ordered the club to stand down the controversial import following his arrest at a bar in Auckland on Thursday, the Breakers were predictably defeated 88-77 by the Perth Wildcats in Perth.
Star Wildcats guard Bryce Cotton shone with 34 points, while the short-handed Breakers could only muster 12 points from their bench as they slumped to another defeat. The Breakers now hold a 2-7 record, remaining in eighth on the ladder.