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Rio hopes end with narrow Tall Ferns loss

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 15/06/2016

The Tall Ferns have failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics following a heart-breaking 64-62 loss to Cuba.

The Cubans sunk two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining to clinch a game which eliminates New Zealand from the women's basketball Olympic qualifying tournament in Nantes, France.

While the world No.22 Tall Ferns were more competitive than in the 70-52 loss to fourth-ranked France a day earlier, they spent much of the game playing catch-up against 13th-ranked Cuba after a slow start.

Guard Micaela Cocks was a central figure in the dying moments, shooting a three-pointer to level the scores before committing a foul that led to the decisive free throws to Marlen Cepeda.

New Zealand needed to finish in the top-five at the 12-nation tournament to qualify for Rio.

Coach Kennedy Kereama admits it was a shattering way for their chances to end.

"It is totally disappointing not to come away with a win," he said.

"We invested a lot of emotional energy in the game the night before and had a very short turnaround and recovery.

"It's pretty obvious to those that watched the game we were severely flat to start the game, we lacked energy."

Cuba never trailed, forging a 32-24 lead by halftime and 48-39 entering the final stanza before Jillian Harmon came alive for New Zealand, scoring 14 of her game-high 25 points.

Harmon also pulled down 14 rebounds in a fine all-round display, while Kalani Purcell contributed nine points and eight rebounds.

The Tall Ferns will miss a second successive Olympics after having attended the Games in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

The result on Wednesday marks the end of a month-long campaign through Asia and Europe in which the Tall Ferns claimed a number of big-name scalps but also suffered some heavy defeats.

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