The Tall Ferns have flown into Bangalore for their first FIBA Asia Cup campaign with hopes high after a tour of Taiwan and Singapore, which produced six wins and just one defeat.
Those hopes will also contain a sprinkling of reality though. New Zealand is ranked 38th in the world and are only ranked sixth of the eight competing teams at the Asia Cup, beginning on 23 August. Only DPR Korea (64th) and the Philippines (49th) are ranked below the Kiwis.
New Zealand needs a top-four finish at the Asia Cup to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
They open their Pool A campaign with a late game on Day 1 against China. The Chinese, eleven times Asia champions, finished second at the 2015 Championships and with a size advantage will be tough nut for the Tall Ferns to crack.
China have a number of stars but much of their game plan will centre around Gao Song who led her team in both scoring (10.7ppg) and rebounding (6.4rpg) at the 2015 Asia Championships.
The Tall Ferns will view all games as winnable, but particularly the second and third pool games. On Monday 24 July they face the little known DPR Korea that finished eighth in 2015. Their offence will centre around Pak HyangJong who led all scorers at the last champs averaging 19.2 points per game.
The following day it will be a match up against Chinese Taipei who, at 34th in the world, hold a slightly better ranking than New Zealand. Chinese Taipei have finished fourth at the last five Asia championships and will be hoping the experienced Lin Yu-Ting and Huang Ping-Jen can finally get them on the podium.
With all eight teams automatically qualifying for the quarter-finals, the Tall Ferns will be looking to avoid a couple of the heavyweights in Pool B by finishing as high as possible in their pool.
Those quarter finals, to be played on Thursday 27 July, take on huge significance with the top four teams at the Asia Champs qualifying for the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain. In short, a quarter-final win is a ticket to the World Cup.
Pool B is made up of defending champions Japan, Korea, Philippines and Australia
Japan is well known to the Kiwis as they played a three game series in New Zealand in 2015. New Zealand also met a Japanese Under 24 team at the William Jones Cup earlier in this month.
Under new coach Tom Hovasse, Japan are aiming for a third straight Asia Cup title, but will have to attempt that without Seattle Storm WNBA star Ramu Tokashiki.
Australia, like New Zealand, are attending its first Asia Cup. They are seeded fourth in the world and, although they will be without their WNBA stars, they will still boast a strong team that includes Olympians Marianna Tolo, Belinda Snell and Laura Hodges.
Avoiding those two big hitters in the quarters would help the Kiwis cause. Crossing over against Korea or the Philippines would not be straight forward, but it would definitely be a preferred option.
The senior players in the Tall Ferns were in good form during their lead up games over the last three weeks.
Micaela Cocks had a couple of 20 points hauls and averaged 14 points per game with Jillian Harmon close behind on 13 points per outing.
Kalani Purcell was in terrific form averaging a double double (10 points and 11 rebounds) across the seven games. Natalie Taylor showed her worth with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in the game one win against Singapore.
Josie Stockill claimed 22 points in a game against China whilst Toni Farnworth and Chevannah Paalvast both enjoyed a couple of double digit performances.
The Tall Ferns opening game against China will tip off at 00.15am (NZ time) on Monday, 24 July 24.
For more on the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup go to http://www.fiba.com/womensasiacup/2017
For Tall Ferns Player Biographies go to: http://basketball.org.nz/National-Teams/Tall-Ferns/Roster/Tall-Ferns-Bios
Follow the Tall Ferns at @TallFerns on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more go to www.basketball.org.nz and Basketball New Zealand’s social media channels: @BasketballNZ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.