Despite 23 points from Canterbury forward Charlotte Whittaker and a double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds) from Waikato guard Charlisse Leger-Walker the Aon Junior Tall Ferns were defeated 77-62 by Japan in their opening game at the 2018 FIBA U18 Asian Championship campaign in Bengaluru, India early on Monday morning (NZT).
In a spirited display New Zealand only trailed by eight points with five minutes to play but couldn’t overcome their more composed opponents down the stretch.
Whittaker got the Kiwis on the board with an early basket courtesy of a Grace Hunter assist and Charlisse Leger-Walker followed that up with a triple.
However Japan, the silver medalists at the last U18 Asian Championships, were quick to respond forging a double figure advantage.
Despite Koha Lewis making her first basket in international colours Japan led 23-13 at the end of the opening quarter.
Hunter and Whittaker sored again early in the second and with Emme Shearer joining Lewis as a scorer on debut New Zealand were very much in the contest at the mid-point of the stanza trailing 30-23.
Despite a couple of scores from Leah Mafua Japan had the better of the back end of the half leading 41-29 at the interval.
Whatever was said in the locker room by coach Jody Cameron at half-time worked a treat as the Kiwis put together a strong display in the third period.
Nine points from Whittaker and contributions from Leah Mafua, Hunter, Lewis and Leger-Walker meant the JTF’s trailed 52-47 in the shadows of three-quarter time. A three from Tayla Dalton on the final play of the frame pulled the Kiwis to within two points (52-50) with ten minutes to play.
Japan opened the final quarter with a 10-2 run although when Leger-Walker connected with a jump shot the margin was still only eight points (62-54) with five minutes to play.
Missed scoring opportunities and turnovers (26 given up in the contest) proved costly for New Zealand in the closing minutes but the overall performance was certainly encouraging for Head Coach Jody Cameron.
“It was a great hit out against Japan although the turnover count really let us down. If we could have minimized those we would have been well in contention to have taken the win,’” said Cameron.
“The team were well led by Charlotte and Charlisse plus Koha and Emme played very well on debut, both giving us great energy off the bench,” she added.
New Zealand has a short turnaround lining up against defending champions China tonight – tip-off 8.45pm Monday.
NZ 62 – C Whittaker 23, C Leger-Walker 14/13r/4a, G Hunter 9, L Mafua 7/8r, K Lewis 4, T Dalton 3, E Shearer 2, E Bradley 6r