After narrowly losing their first two games against defending champions Fiji and hosts Samoa, the Cook Islanders needed a win against New Caledonia to keep their medal hopes alive. They did just that, defeating New Caledonia by 89 points to 37.
“It was a huge team effort. It started from defence and we knew that if we put the pressure on early that the offense would fall [in to place] from there” said Aijah Pepe, who led the scoring with 22 points, including three three-pointers.
The team has so far been led by their youth brigade, with 17-year-old Te Araroa Sopoaga averaging 14.7 points and 20-year-old Pepe averaging 18.3 points per game over their first three games.
The game started well for the Cook Islands, with the team displaying their improved chemistry since the beginning of the tournament.
Strong defence on both ends of the court saw neither team score a goal for almost four minutes during the first quarter.
However, the Cook Islanders eventually found their groove, going on a 20-0 run heading into halftime, to lead New Caledonia by 18 points.
The team picked up where they left off after the break, improving their lead to 30 points by the end of the third quarter.
The Cook Islands keep their medal chances alive following the win and Pepe says the team is ecstatic.
“Obviously we’ve come to compete and go for a medal, so having that chance is great,” Pepe says.
Terai Sadler led the way in rebounds, grabbing 14 boards, 10 of which were offensive rebounds. She has averaged 10.7 rebounds in the first three games, which have been critical in allowing the Cook Islands to score second chance points.
Pepe led the way in scoring and Janet Maoate-Breen dished out 10 dimes, leading the way in assists.
The team is likely to meet Guam or Tahiti in their quarter-final match, both of whom have been solid in their efforts so far at the Games.
“Either team would be huge challenge,” Pepe says.
She also says that despite improving their free-throw percentage in the game against New Caledonia, there is still room to do better moving forward. She adds the team needs to lift their intensity on defence in their next match.