The Canadian women’s basketball team managed two major accomplishments Friday; beating Brazil and qualifying for the quarter-finals at the Olympics for the first time in 28 years.
The Canadians got by Brazil 79-73, giving Canada two wins in preliminary play and enough points to guarantee a spot in quarter finals. The last time the Canadian women got that far at the Olympics was in 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. And head coach Allison McNeill can't recall ever beating Brazil in international play at any level.
"No we’ve never beaten them," she said after Friday's win. “It feels great..We were sort of fighting for respect.”
Karen Smith, a nine-year veteran of the program, said the win is a boost for basketball in Canada. “It’s a huge win for us who have been around for along time and never beaten Brazil. It’s a great feeling,” she said. “And it’s huge for the growth of the game in Canada...It feels good. This is going to help us out so much and it's going to help basketball.”
The Canadians came out strong Friday, building a 10 point lead in the first quarter and expanding that to 14 by the half. The Brazilians simply could not get started and misfired constantly. In the first half the Brazilians made just 33 per cent of their field goals while the Canadians hit 53 per cent.
Even better for the Canadians, the team kept Brazil's high-scoring guard Karla Costa to just three points. Costa came into the game averaging 15.3 points per game in the tournament.
Canada tried to keep up the pace in the second half but the Brazilians came storming back and took the lead early in the fourth quarter.
At that point it looked like Canada would fold. McNeill stood on the sidelines fretting about her players complacency and screaming “attack, attack.” They finally got the message and a couple of key baskets by Shona Thorburn late in the game helped make the difference and Canada hung on. Smith led the scoring with 14 points along with Courtnay Pilypaitis who also had 14.
“It was tense the whole time,” McNeill said later. “It was tense when we were up 14.”
The Canadians viewed the win as something of a vindication. While Canada lost two other games in the preliminary round, both were close.
“I think a lot of teams saw us as the pushover team,” said Chelsea Aubry who also viewed the win as a boost for the sport in Canada. “Now people know we have a basketball team. This is how I started in basketball. I saw them on TV and I wanted to play that sport.”
The Canadians have one more group game against Australia Sunday. The Australians lead the pool and clinched a spot in the quarter-finals beating Russia 70-66 on Friday.
There are 12 teams in the Olympic tournament divided into two pools. The top four from each pool advance to the quarter-finals. The win over Brazil left Canada fourth in its pool.
The Canadians will face a tough opponent in the quarter-finals; the United States. The U.S. has yet to lose in the tournament.