TOKYO (National Team) - Point guard Angela Marino rallied the NZ Tall Ferns to within an ace of toppling Japan on their home court, falling 60-64 only in the final minutes of their second test in Tokyo.
After their 17-point loss in yesterday's opening encounter, the Kiwis were again slow out of the blocks and trailed by 13 points after the first quarter. But they outscored their hosts in every subsequent period, finally tying the game at 55-55 with just under four minutes left.
Japan scored the next eight points to reclaim some momentum, but the Ferns again closed within a shot of the lead in the final seconds before having to foul for possession.
"I was delighted with the improvement," said coach Mike McHugh. "Their character is fantastic and they played with great courage.
"Defensively, the difference between yesterday and today was night and day."
Marino, who was top scorer in Game One, had 19 points in the rematch, despite coming under close scrutiny from her markers.
"They did everything they could to her, but the kid has a heart as big as a house," said McHugh. "She made some plays today that were just unbelievable."
New Zealand's other standout performer was Auckland forward Lisa Wallbutton, who put up a "double double" of 10 points/12 rebounds.
"Lisa really won the possession game for us," observed McHugh.
The two teams are at very different stages of their respective international programmes.
While the Kiwis are at the start of their 2007 schedule, Japan have already together several weeks in their preparation for next month's FIBA Asia Championship for Women, the zone's Olympic qualifying event.
"This is a pretty good result given where they are and where we are in our itineraries."
The Tall Ferns have one more shot at toppling their rivals tomorrow before returning to New Zealand on Friday.
NZ Tall Ferns vs Japan
Tuesday, May 22
Japan 64 NZ Tall Ferns 60 (Angela Marino 19, Lisa Wallbutton 10, Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe 9, Noni Wharemate 9)
Halftime 35-24 (16-18)
Threequarter 49-44 (14-20)
Fulltime 64-60 (15-16)