The result was a far cry from the Kiwis’ 42-point drubbing at the hands of the host team in their opening game of the Jin Quiang Cup in Chengdou. In fact, they may have stolen an unexpected victory if they had managed to convert better than 16/29 (55.2%) from the free throw line.
Cuba were always ahead, leading 16-10 after the opening quarter and taking a 13-point advantage into the fourth term. But the 17th-ranked Ferns showed their toughness by outscoring their rivals down the stretch, holding them to just eight points in the final period.
"Our defensive effort and the way we bounced back was integral to our performance," said coach Mike McHugh, who described the showing as one of the best since New Zealand toppled China in pool play at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Over the past three years, most of those Olympic veterans have retired and none are at this tournament. Skipper Donna Wilkins, forward Aneka Kerr and point guard Angela Marino were all unavailable, putting the onus on McHugh’s international rookies to step up quickly to this level.
"The youngsters certainly learned a lot tonight."
McCormack (17), who was their best performer against China, again led the way with a "double double" of 12 points (3/14 FG, 6/12 FT)/12 rebounds. Guard Micaela Cocks matched her scoring output, shooting 4/13 FG, 2/6 3pt, 2/4FT).
"Our foul shooting just let us down tonight," observed captain Noni Wharemate. "We had a chance to pull off an amazing win."
New Zealand face Argentina, ranked 12th in the world, tonight.
Thursday, June 14
Cuba 64 (Yamile Martinez 15, Yamara Amargo 10) NZ Tall Ferns 56 (Jess McCormack 12, Micaela Cocks 12, Lisa Wallbutton 11)
Halftime 32-24 (16-14)
Threequarter 56-43 (24-19)
Fulltime 64-56 (8-13)
Basketball New Zealand