The Aon Junior Tall Ferns pushed China all the way in their second game at the 2018 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in Bengaluru, India on Monday before eventually going down 67-58.
New Zealand led for large parts of the first half and even when falling behind in the second were still able to keep the contest close. They trailed by just four points with eight minutes to play after the Wellington duo of Leah Mafua and Grace Hunter landed back-to-back threes (52-48).
China scored the next six points before Tayla Dalton scored via a put back and then knocked down three free throws after being fouled beyond the arc.
New Zealand were still applying pressure in the last five minutes and although Mafua and Charlisse Leger-Walker added to their tallies New Zealand could not quite get near enough to cause an upset.
Leger-Walker was outstanding with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 assists whilst Mafua also filled the stats line with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block. Charlotte Whittaker was a constant threat inside and finished with 12 points (6/11FG).
As against Japan on the opening day Whittaker and Leger-Walker combined to give New Zealand an early 5-0 lead. The Kiwis were having trouble with giant Chinese centre Yutong Liu but a score from Emme Shearer and a dozen points in the period from Leger-Walker took the Kiwis to a 16-13 quarter-time lead.
Whittaker opened the scoring in the second frame but a 10-2 run took China to a 23-20 lead. Mafua responded with an And-1 play and a penetrative drive and when Rochelle Fourie scored from a Leger-Walker assist the Kiwis were all square at 27 apiece.
Chine had the final say in the half, a ‘Hail Mary’ triple carrying them to a 30-27 lead at the break.
A Whittaker put back and a Leger-Walker three helped New Zealand to a 36-35 lead before China reeled off a 13-4 run to carry them to a 48-40 three-quarter time advantage.
The Kiwis pushed China all the way in the fourth to the delight of Head Coach Jody Cameron.
“I think Japan and China are surprised at what we have brought to the table, we are contenders not just making up numbers. I would like to play them again now we have had the experience of playing them. We are trying to establish that we are as good as the other teams here and better than some.
“We need to get better at rebounding and limit our turnovers. We are playing against teams that are playing week in week out. Our girls are probably playing a quarter of what some of the other teams are playing. Playing regular international basketball will help our development greatly.
“We are honoured to be part of the Asian Championship and its great for the development of our game in New Zealand,” added Cameron.
New Zealand will round out pool play against Malaysia (tip-off 01.15am Wednesday NZ time). Both teams are looking for its first win with China and Japan, both unbeaten, facing off to decide Pool B winners.
NZ 58 – C Leger-Walker 22/8r, C Whittaker 12/4r, L Mafua 10/4r, T Dalton 5, G Hunter 3, K Lewis 2, E Shearer 2, R Fourie 2
Box Score here
Pool A standings: Australia (2-0), Korea (2-0), Chinese Taipei (0-2) and Indonesia (0-2).
In the B Division Oceania representatives Samoa and Guam are both 0-2 after two rounds.