Mon, September 23, 2013

Canadian ballers end 12-year drought

By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency


Japan's Maki Takada (right) goes for a basket against Canada's Krista Phillips during their 2012 women's FIBA Olympic qualifying match in Ankara, Turkey, July 1, 2012. (UMIT BEKTAS/Reuters)

You couldn't write a better script.

The Canadian women's basketball team will compete in the 2012 London Olympics thanks to a do-or-die Canada Day victory over Japan Sunday.

Canada sent Japan packing with a 71-63 victory in Ankara, Turkey, and became the first Canadian hoops team -- male or female -- to qualify for the Olympics since both did it in 2000 (when Steve Nash nearly led the men to a medal finish).

"I'd say this is the ultimate Canada Day! To come back after Friday's loss is nothing less than spectacular," Canada Basketball president Wayne Parrish said.

"Their resilience has been remarkable."

The rising men's program has garnered most of the attention, but the women's squad, under the leadership of coach Allison McNeill, has been plugging away and has now completed a major achievement. Canada needed to beat Argentina and Japan to qualify after losing to Croatia in the quarterfinals of the qualifying tournament.

Canada got out to an 11-0 start and led by 15 points in the third, but Japan closed to within three points in the final frame before Canada seized back control to claim the final berth in the London Games.

Canada was led by Courtnay Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., who notched a game-best 21 points.

The team will be placed in Group B in London with Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, France and Russia.

"The team's victory today is a result of years of dedication and sacrifice by the players, the coaches and the behind-the-scenes staff, as well as support of our many partners across the country who help ensure that the team trains in optimal conditions," Canada Basketball executive director Michele O'Keefe said. "We can collectively be proud of this Olympic qualification."