The Tall Ferns will begin their last-ditch Olympic qualifying bid tonight against the Czech Republic, but they already have one eye on their next opponents.
Coach Kennedy Kereama isnt about to "throw" their opening pool game at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey, but he concedes the Czechs ranked fourth in the world and runners-up at the last world championships may be a bridge too far for the 16th-ranked Kiwi women.
Theyre obviously a classy team, says Kereama. Weve been lucky enough to play them a few times over the years and their squad hasnt changed a lot since we played them last.
That would be four years ago, at the Beijing Olympics, when the giant Czechs emerged 90-59 victors and went on to lose to eventual silver medallists Australia in the quarterfinals.
Theyre tall in every position. With an average height of 1.86m (6ft 1in), they have six players taller than the tallest Tall Fern Karlene Kingi at 1.88m (6ft 2in) with centre Petra Kulichova standing 1.98m (6ft 6in).
Theyre a huge team to play first up, admits Kereama. Were going to have to play a fairly well-planned game well have to execute our defence very well.
Well have to extend our pressure up the floor and try to negate their size in the paint. We also cant afford to have more than 10 turnovers, which is something weve been good at over the past couple of years.
But Kereama also hinted that, if the game starts to get away from his team, he may shut up shop to concentrate on tomorrows more winnable fixture against 12th-ranked Argentina.
Any betting person in the world would say our best chance is against Argentina, he says. It would be one of those tough decisions you have to make as a coach you dont want to expend a lot of emotional energy trying to win a game thats out of reach.
Theres a balance.
Argentina arent as physically imposing their average height (1.78m) is shorter than the Ferns (1.80m), but theyre combative.
I dont want to say theyre dirty, but they hit you hard. Theres a lot of scrappiness off the ball and they have a couple of real warriors on their team.
They play a very physical brand of basketball, which is something the Tall Ferns have also prided ourselves on over the years. But I think were more skilled than weve been in the past and dont have to rely on that physicality as much.
I think we can cause some match-up problems for them.
Kereamas biggest worry is a draw that sees the South Americans able to scout both their pool opponents before they play them New Zealand doesnt have that luxury.
One thing we cant do is leave it up to fate, he says. If we lose to Czechs Republic and beat Argentina, but then Argentina somehow beat the Czechs, it comes down to percentages.
And thats the balancing act.
The edge weve got over them is that weve played games together weve had a few games out on the floor.
The Tall Ferns have spent the past two weeks in China, winning just two of their eight fixtures, but honing on their structure at both ends of the court. Theyve beaten African champions Angola and lost a two-point heartbreaker to Asian champions China both teams have already qualified for London.
Medical staff have managed some niggling injuries the most serious a shoulder injury to captain Natalie Taylor and all players are now fit and ready for the challenge.
The Tall Ferns line-up against Czech Republic tonight (1.45am NZ) is:
Micaela Cocks, Toni Edmondson, Jillian Harmon, Jordan Hunter, Karlene Kingi, Casey Lockwood, Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe, Charmian Mellars, Erin Rooney, Natalie Taylor (captain), Lisa Wallbutton, Noni Wharemate
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