Fri, September 20, 2013

French frustrate Canadian hoopsters

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


France's Sandrine Gruda fights for the ball with Canada's Chelsea Aubry during the women's preliminary round Group B basketball match at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 1, 2012. (Sergio Perez/REUTERS)



LONDON - The head coach of Canada’s women’s basketball team described her feelings on Wednesday morning with one very simple and succinct thought.

“Rats,” said a frustrated Allison McNeill, as she watched her hard-luck squad fall to higher-ranked France 64-60 in Canada’s third preliminary game at the London Olympics.

That’s been the story so far for Canada’s female hoopsters. They’ve been in every game they’ve played, but likely face elimination if they don’t come up big at least once in their next two games — against Brazil on Friday and then Australia on Sunday. The Brazilians are ranked sixth in the world and Aussies second. Canada is 11th. With the loss to France, the Canadians fell to 1-2 on the tournament.

“I’d agree, at this moment, definitely,” said Canadian forward Natalie Achonwa, when asked if some frustration was setting in after two close losses.

“They’re the hardest to lose. Not that I’m saying that I’d prefer to get beat by 20. But we’ve shown our heart, we showed our Canadian tenacity. We’ve just got to push, we’ve got to play 40 minutes. We’ve got too many peaks, and once we get a balanced game, I think we’re going to (win). We got to make shots.”

Canada, a team that qualified for London at the very last moment with a win over Japan on Canada Day in Turkey, opened the Olympics with a 58-53 loss to Russia, the highest-ranked team in the world after the U.S. and Australia.

They then came back to beat the host Brits 73-65, and then lost the heart-breaking game to France on Wednesday.

The bottom line, said Guelph, Ont., native Achonwa, is that they have to make shots. Against France, the red and white went an agonizing 0-for-11 from behind the three-point line and were a pedestrian 14-20 from the free-throw line and missed far too many layups.

Offensive numbers like that won’t win too many games. On the other side of the coin, France was 0-5 from the three and were out-rebounded by the smaller Canadians 40-36. Brazil represents a similar challenge to France for Canada, a tall and athletic side. The key, said Achonwa, is to just continue with the game plan, and that’s defence, defence, defence.

“Just go back to the basics, the rebounding, the defence ... our defence definitely fuels this team,” she said. “We are a great defending team. We executed on offence, we just didn’t make shots.”

Achonwa, 19, brushed aside suggestions that the 9 a.m. tip-off for Wednesday’s game may have thrown their shooting off.

“At the end of the day, it’s a court, it’s a ball, you put it in the hoop,” said the Notre Dame Fighting Irish standout. “If you’re not focused at 9 (a.m.), then you can’t be focused at 9 p.m. We practice at 8 in the morning at training. I think that’s an excuse and we’re not going to use that.”

The young Canadian star finished the game with 14 points and eight rebounds, while guard Shona Thorburn of Hamilton led all scorers with 17. The French had four players in double digits in scoring, led by Emilie Gomis’ 16.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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