Mon, September 23, 2013

Canadian women face hostile hoops hosts

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canada's Kim Smith (left) and her teammates next play Great Britain in women's basketball at the 2012 Summer Games in London. (SERGIO PEREZ/Reuters)


LONDON - When it comes to women’s basketball at the Olympics, Canada and Great Britain are trying to win games and, along with the victories, some respect.

They will face each other Monday (3 p.m. EDT) with the winner keeping alive some thin hope of advancing to the medal round.

The loser will fall to 0-2 and will pretty much be done.

Canada, which came into the Olympic tournament ranked 11th in the world, made some people take notice as they pushed Russia, ranked second in the world along with Australia, to the limit in their opening game Saturday. Canada had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hang on and lost 58-53.

The Britons are ranked 49th in the world. They didn’t even have a world ranking five years ago and have made some rapid progress under coach Tom Maher, who coached the Aussies to Olympic silver and bronze medals. They are in the tournament as Olympic hosts. They lost their opening game to the Aussies 74-58.

“It’s huge for both of our teams who are looking to move on. We’re so similar. We’re both fighting for respect. We really had to battle our way here,” said Canadian coach Allison McNeill. “They’re the hosts, but they have to kind of get out there and gain some respect and they’ve done that. They lost to Russia by four in a scrimmage, they beat (the Czechs) by 30. They’re playing very, very well. They’ll have the home crowd. We’re an underdog, regardless of the rankings, but we play well from that position.”

A key for Canada against the Brits will be to get some more diversified offence. Kim Smith of Mission, B.C., led the way for Canada against the Russians with 20 points, including five three-pointers, but missed a couple of critical free throws down the stretch. No other Canadian was in double figures with Shona Thorburn of Hamilton, Ont., next with seven.

At the Olympic qualifier, it was guard Courtnay Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., who did the heavy lifting.

Getting more than one person who is hot from the perimeter and the odd basket from somebody on the inside would go a long way toward helping Canada’s chances.

In the meantime, they could take some encouragement from the way they played the Russians for a good part of their opening game.

“Morning from London!,” Pilypaitis tweeted Sunday. “A new day ... practice and film on tap for today! Looking to get better!”

The British have built their team with players from around the world and have a Canadian connection: Point guard Rachel Vanderwal is from Hamilton. She qualified to play for Great Britain through her mom, a native of Merseyside. Vanderwal plays in the Irish league. Assistant coach Ken Shields was the long-time coach of Canada’s national men’s team and the University of Victoria squad.

Guard Natalie Stafford, a native of Australia, said the Brits need to do some work before facing Canada Monday.

“We need to work on our defensive positioning and focus on the ball, not too much on the man, particularly against a team like Canada,” she said.

The Brits showed some pluck against the Aussies, so Canada can probably expect a physical game.

“We were giving it to them and they were giving it right back,” said Stafford. “Basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport, but emotions run high and people get excited.

“We knew it was going to be tough and we just came out and gave it our all but they’re just too good. They’re bigger and all of their players can do everything and are all-round players. We stuck it to them and tried to be tough. I thought we did a good job.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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