The Canadian women’s basketball team showed it can win any way necessary Friday, and that will prove valuable as it competes for an Olympic berth next month.
Kim Smith of Mission, B.C. scored 12 points, had eight rebounds and three steals to lead Canada to a 45-37 win over China in Abbotsford, B.C. Friday night.
The game was the rubber match of the Jack Donohue International Classic, an annual demonstration of the national team’s product in front of domestic fans.
However, it was also a tune-up exhibition as Canada prepares for a last-chance qualifying tournament in Turkey next month for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The Canadians won the opener in Langley on Wednesday 78-66 before China stole the second match in Richmond Thursday evening 67-51.
After both teams shot over 60 per cent in the first game, Friday’s match was victimized by poor shooting early by both squads. Canada shot just 37.5 per cent from the field in the first half, while China shot 32 per cent and both teams finished under 40 per cent for the game.
“This is two tough teams contesting everything,” said Canadian head coach Allison McNeill. “The shooting percentages aren’t going to be high. We did miss six layups in the first half, and they were not that hard, but they missed some too.
“Low scoring, but hey, we’ll take it.”
The on-court action sometimes looked like a hockey game with its fair share of clutching and grabbing. China out-fouled Canada 15-12, though both teams only sank four free throws.
“When you play the same team three times, and we did this in China too, you get to know each other and it gets a tad bit chippy,” McNeill said. “It’s like guarding your best friends for three days. I’m sure it’ll be physical in Turkey too but you’re going to clutch and grab and do whatever it takes to get to the Olympics.”
China, ranked No. 7 in the world, already has already clinched a spot at the London Olympic Games.
Canada, meanwhile, failed to qualify through the FIBA Americas championships in September, but earned a spot in the last-chance qualifier June 25—July 1 in Ankara, Turkey.
The Canadians must finish top-five in the second-chance tournament to earn a spot in London. Canada is the fourth-best team in the tournament at No. 11.
“I think we’ve improved every single day we’ve been here at training camp and each of these games we’ve improved too,” said Canadian guard Teresa Gabriele.
The Canadian national team was wrapping up a training session in the Fraser Valley after playing the Seattle Storm, Atlanta Dream and Japan recently.
“We had six really good games against opponents that we couldn’t get playing against ourselves,” said McNeill.
With only a month to go to the qualifier, the goal is to get healthy more than anything else.
“We have to get healthy,” she said. “We have four players sitting on the bench that got hurt. Natalie (Achonwa) got concussed tonight.”
The Canadian team will hold a brief camp in Toronto before travelling to France to play the host team, plus Great Britain, Croatia and Czech Republic, before heading to Turkey.
On Friday the two teams raced to a 4-4 tie early but were unable to get past that until the eight-minute mark of the quarter. The first 10-minute quarter ended 11-10 for Canada.
The second quarter didn’t fare much better as far as offence was concerned. China took its first and only lead of the game with 4:15 left, going ahead 16-15. However, Canada took a 19-16 lead into halftime as Krista Phillips scored on a crisp jumper as the shot clock expired late in the half.
Canada took control of the game in the third, starting with a 10-2 run and finishing the quarter up 38-26. Smith drained two three-pointers and Alisha Tatham of Brampton, Ont., had five of her 10 points in the quarter, including her second three of the game.
“It’s hard not to appreciate the lift Tamara Tatham gave us,” McNeill said. “She just got back from Germany and has not had a full practice with us since last summer, so she came in and really sparked us.”
On the other side of the ball, Saskatoon forward Krista Phillips was again charged with defending six-foot-nine Wei Wei of China and held her to two points before the game’s tallest forward was pulled due to a minor injury.
“I thought Krista Phillips was very good defensively,” McNeill said. “She plays the high-post and kind of orchestrates our offence, so I really liked how she played with poise up there.”
Phillips added six points and two rebounds to the winning cause.
Smith was the top performer, but not just statistically.
“Kim’s one of our most experienced players,” McNeill said. “We’re still fairly young in the perimeter with Michelle Plouffe and Natalie Achonwa, so (having her in the lineup) was a key factor. People know she can score, but she’s also one of our best rebounders and best defenders. But Natalie was hurt tonight and Shona (Thorburn) is hurt, she sprained her ankle. We had other people step up and that’s good to know about ourselves.”
China got within eight points in the final two minutes but could not complete the comeback.
China’s top scorer was Xiaoli Chen with eight points.