Canadians cruise over Brazil in women's basketball
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
Canada's Natalie Achonwa grabs a pass as Brazil's Erika Souza defends during their women's Group B match at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Aug. 3, 2012. (SERGIO PEREZ/Reuters)
LONDON - "Now people know we have a basketball team."
When forward Chelsea Aubry spoke those words, following a historic 79-73 win over Brazil on Friday afternoon, she was speaking for the entire Canadian women's basketball team.
And what a team.
Not the most talented in the world. Nobody leads the Olympic tournament in scoring or rebounds. But as a unit, the Canadian women on Friday demonstrated yet again their resilience and tenacity by defeating Brazil and qualifying for the quarter-finals, the first time they've made it that far since the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Canada cruised in the first half, building a 14-point lead, but collapsed in the third quarter to allow the Brazilians -- ranked sixth in the world -- to go ahead.
The atmosphere inside the Olympic basketball arena was electric during the entire second half as the Brazilians continued to eat away at Canada's lead. Canada, ranked 11th in the world, hadn't defeated Brazil in over a decade and, with a spot in the quarter-finals at sake, you could cut the tension with a knife.
But with the game tied 61-61 in the fourth, Hamilton's Shona Thorburn put Canada in front for good from the foul line with 6:19 left, starting a 9-2 run that Brazil did not recover from.
Canada is now 2-2 in the tournament and plays world No. 2 ranked Australia on Sunday in their final preliminary game and if they can upset the Aussies, they would avoid facing the No.1 ranked Americans in the quarters. But none of that mattered to the girls in red after the win against Brazil. Many had tears in the eyes, certainly smiles on their faces, including veteran guard Kim Smith of Mission, B.C.
"It's incredible," said Smith, who finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds. "My first few years playing against Brazil, it was 20 to 30 point blowouts. We couldn't even compete with them. We've been so close that last few years, to get over the hump and get the win, it's huge. And it's huge for the growth of the game in Canada."
Canada Basketball president Wayne Parrish said afterwards that the achievement by the women here shows that his organization's plan for both national teams -- a plan that includes the men's and women's teams qualifying and contending for medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics -- is on track.
"This team came of age in the last five minutes today and the way they hung on and hung on and then went ahead was tremendous," he said.
Thorburn led all players with eight assists. She also had 10 points and four boards.
"It was tense the whole time," Canadian coach Allison McNeill said. "It was tense when we were up 14 because our team seems to be a team that just can do some crazy things, but we can also do some crazy things to stay in games."
One of the crazy things was to shoot an impressive 67% from two-point range and hold the Brazilians to 39% from the field.
"We're ecstatic," Kitchener Aubry said. "I think a lot of teams saw us a pushover team. They saw us and Great Britain in the pool and probably thought we were the pushover team."
Tamara Tatham of Brampton, Ont., also had a big game for Canada, scoring 13 with three steals and four rebounds.