Canadian women Russian into hoops tourney
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
Canada's Teresa Gabriele (left) admits her team is in a tough pool but is playing at a high level of competition. (UMIT BEKTAS/Reuters file photo)
LONDON - Canada’s women’s basketball team won’t ease into the Olympic tournament when the schedule tips off Saturday.
Their opponent is Russia, ranked second in the world, along with Australia.
The Americans are the overwhelming favourites and are gunning for their fifth gold medal in a row.
What are the Canadians hoping for as they return to the Olympics for the first time since 2000 in Sydney?
“For everybody to play their best basketball. We’re an underdog coming in and we haven’t set ourselves like ‘oh, we want to finish in this place,’” said guard Kim Smith, a native of Mission, B.C. “We’ve just kind of said we want to play our best basketball and wherever that takes us, that takes us but if at the end of the day we have no regrets, then we’ve had a great Olympics.”
Canada is ranked 11th in the world and was the last country to qualify for the Games. They beat Japan (now ranked 15th in the world) 71-63 on Canada Day to grab their spot.
Smith said the team is in good spirits and morale is high as it prepares to start the Games.
“Really high, we really came together in the last two games (of the Olympic qualifying tournament) and played good team basketball. We made shots and pulled it together when it all mattered,” she said.
Guard Courtnay Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., scored 21 points in that win over Japan and was named team MVP for the qualifying tournament. Canada will likely need another strong performance from the guard if they are going to have a shot at upsetting the Russians.
“I pride myself on doing a little bit of everything. We struggled a bit offensively, so I tried to pick up the slack. Our offence is so team-oriented that anyone can score and anyone can have a great game. I happened to have a great game that day,” said the 24-year-old graduate of the University of Vermont who has been playing her club ball in Lithuania where her family has roots. This could be her competitive swan song as a player as she’ll join the Catamounts coaching staff as an assistant for next season.
She said she is completely over the third concussion of her career which she sustained earlier this year.
“I just went head-to-head with a 6-foot-9 girl and she won that battle,” said Pilypaitis. “The concussion was kind of a big scare for me. I was able to rest and now I feel great.”
Along with Russia, Canada is in Pool B with Australia, Brazil (sixth in the world), France (eighth) and Great Britain (49th).
Pool A has the Americans, Angola (27th), China (seventh), Croatia (31st), the Czech Republic (fourth) and Turkey (21st).
The top four teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals Aug. 7.
“We have a really tough pool. Saying that, we are coming into the competion on a high right now because we have just qualified,” said veteran Teresa Gabriele, a 32-year-old guard from Mission, B.C. “It’s good because we are peaking, we are carrying that energy with us to the Olympics and we have really come together as a team in the last few weeks.”
The players have been here for a week and have been soaking up the atmosphere in the Athletes Village. Coach Alison McNeill has been striving to find a balance between getting the work done they need to get done and, in the down time, appreciating the experience that is the Olympics.
“I think the mindset is good. We’ve had some good training time. It’s a mindset of good focus, but also pretty light,” she said. “They’re kind of a low-key group and they really like to be together. That’s not always what happens at this level. Lots of times athletes are really driven and form a team, but they’re not necessarily not really a team. This is really a team.”
They’ll have to really rely on that team aspect if they are going to pull off an upset in these Games.
CANADA'S STARTING FIVE
Here’s a look at what is expected to be Canada’s starting five for their opener in the women’s Olympic basketball tournament against Russia Saturday.
#5 Teresa Gabriele: The 32-year-old veteran point guard is the only member of the team with previous Olympic experience. She played for Canada in Sydney in 2000. She averaged 7.0 points and 23 minutes a game in Olympic qualifying games.
#2 Courtnay Pilypaitis: The 24-year-old shooting guard from Orleans, Ont., averaged 13.7 points a game with VICI Aistes Kaunas in Lithuania. She was Canada’s MVP at the Olympic qualifying tournament averaging 12.6 points a game.
#8 Kim Smith: The 28-year-old small forward from Mission, B.C., is in her 10th year with the national team. She averaged 23.4 minutes a game in the Olympic qualifer. She played her college ball at the University of Utah.
#4 Krista Phillips: The 6-foot-6 centre attended the University of Michigan and has been playing professionally in Australia. She ranked 11th in rebounds at the Olympic qualifer with 6.4 a game. She’s from Saskatoon.
#14 Chelsea Aubry: The 6-foot-2 power forward from Kitchener, Ont., has played professionally in Australia and has been a member of the national team for 11 years. She averaged 18.4 minutes a game at the Olympic qualifier.
CANADA’S WOMEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EDT)
Saturday, July 28: Canada vs. Russia, 6:15 a.m.
Monday, July 30: Canada vs. Great Britain, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 1: Canada vs. France, 4 a.m.
Friday, Aug. 3: Canada vs. Brazil, 9:30 a.m.
Sunday, Aug. 5: Canada vs. Australia, 9:30 a.m.