Mon, September 23, 2013

Canada comes close to upsetting Russia

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canada's Kim Smith (left) and Russia's Becky Hammon fight for the ball during their Group B match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, July 28, 2012. (SERGIO PEREZ/Reuters)



LONDON - Canada was upset-minded.

Russia, thanks to some timely scoring by a guard from Rapid City, South Dakota, had other thoughts.

The Russians, ranked second in the world, overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to come back and beat Canada 58-53 in both teams’ debut in the women’s Olympic basketball tournament, denying the Canadian women what would have been their biggest win in Olympic history.

“We knew that we had it in our hands. We’re upset with ourselves. This is going to hurt a little bit. This is going to sting,” said Canadian forward Kim Smith, who had team-high 20 points, including five three-pointers, in the loss. “Other people haven’t figured it out yet, but we know we can compete with anybody. We’re still looking to make some noise in this tournament. We’re going to regroup and learn some stuff from this one.”

Monday’s game against Great Britain (ranked 49th in the world) now becomes critical for Canada, ranked 11th, to have a shot at advancing to the medal round. The top four teams in the two pools advance. Canada’s other team to beat in their pool — which also includes strong teams from Australia and Brazil — would be France, ranked eighth.

The Canadians will need to beat both the host Britons and France to have a shot at advancing.

The Canadians were done in by American-born Becky Hammon, who became a Russian citizen after being passed over by the Americans for the 2008 Olympics.

She scored the Russians’ last eight points, including a couple of left-handed Hail Marys that found the net.

“She made a couple of big plays. Really, one of them was a prayer, but it was answered and that’s the kind of player she is,” said Canadian coach Allison McNeill.

This is one that’s going to hurt for Canada.

The Canadians, riding their typical gritty defence and Smith’s hot shooting, looked so good after a three-pointer by Courtnay Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., gave them a 50-40 lead early in the fourth quarter. But at that point centre Krista Phillips fouled out and that hurt the Canadians in the size department down the stretch and their ability to defend.

“We’re not a very big team and Krista is our only five (centre), ” said McNeill. “Some of her fouls were less intelligent, she should know what is going to happen.”

A three-pointer by Anna Petrakova pulled the Russians within two points and then Smith missed a couple of free throws that would have helped Canada get some momentum back. Alena Danilochkina hit a huge three pointer to get the Russians within two and then Hammon took over.

“Kim played great. She missed two free throws that could have been a little bit of a dagger in the heart,” said McNeill. “She wasn’t trying to, she played great. Then they came down and we gave up a three in transition which we hadn’t done the whole game. Somebody lost somebody and that gave them momentum, I think.”

Another key for Canada going forward is getting more than one player with a hot hand. Smith struggled at the Olympic qualifier but Pilypaitis was hot. Saturday, Pilypaitis was just 2-for-12 from the floor.

Canada also needs to get some scoring inside, but that’s always going to be a challenge with the size issue.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to score more than 53 here, I’m pretty sure,” said McNeill. “We can defend, there’s no doubt, we can defend anyone in the world, but we’ve got to score more points.”

The Russians, and a little bit of history, were there for the taking Saturday.

Still, it was a solid start for an underdog Canadian team that was so close to being so much better.

“This is a long tournament,” said Smith. “We’ve been in these situations before. We know that we just have to keep fighting.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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