Fri, September 20, 2013

Win or lose, Canadian women will deliver a beating to U.S.

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canada's Shona Thorburn (L) is guarded by Australia's Kristi Harrower during their women's preliminary round Group B basketball match during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 5, 2012. (REUTERS)

LONDON - Canada will be facing a tall order Tuesday in the medal round of the women's basketball tournament.

Not that the Canadian women, who made history by advancing to the Olympic quarter-final for the first time, aren't used to being the underdogs.

After going 2-3 in the preliminary round with an upset win over Brazil and a victory over the just-happy-to-be-here hosts from Great Britain, Canada now faces the USA on Tuesday.

The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world, are riding a 38-game winning streak at the Olympics.

They haven't lost internationally since 2006 at the world championships, losing to Russia.

"They're a great team. I'll give them that," said 19-year-old Natalie Achonwa of Guelph, Ont., who has been a revelation for Canada at these Games, coming off the bench and giving Canada a boost with some scoring and rebounding. "But we're not going to back down. We're going to be relentless. We're going to show who we are and that we deserve to be here."

In addition to their two wins, the Canadians lost to the French, Russian and Australian teams.

The concluding game against the Opals was typical of Canada's scrappiness here against the top teams in the world.

Canada was down 19 at one point to the Aussies, but battled back to make it a two-point game.

The Americans went a perfect 5-0 in the preliminary round, outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 37 points and are chasing their third consecutive Olympic gold. They have won the Olympic tournament four of the five times it has been played.

"We feel great about coming first in our group. We know the Games are really just starting now," American guard Sue Bird said. "We know now it's one and done and we have to take care of business."

The Americans crushed China in their final preliminary game Sunday and look like they are peaking, which isn't going to make Canada's job any easier.

"The score tells one story, but for us it's about how we played. It was one of our better games, score aside. It felt very cohesive out there," said Bird.

It's unlikely the Americans will take Canada lightly. The Canadians have played some tough defence and have managed to make some of the teams ranked much higher in the world standings play their style for stretches. That was true in the game against the Australians.

The Americans know, if nothing else, there will be a physical price to be played taking on Canada.

"Canada are a tough team. They beat you up," Team USA's Diana Taurasi said.

Bird echoed her teammate's sentiments.

"Canada is a very tough team. People underestimate them," she said. "I played against them this year with my (professional club) team. We had a scrimmage and I can tell you they're not easy to play against."

USA's Lindsay Whalen said she knows what to expect.

"It's the quarter-finals, every game is going to be huge. We've watched them play, they make every team work hard. It's going to be a really great game," she said.

"They are a tough, scrappy team, they never quit," American Maya Moore said. "Every team that they play they make them earn it. That's exactly the kind of game we want."

The Canadians would love to be able to walk away from this one and say, "Be careful what you ask for."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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