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The Globe and Mail

Canada bows out at world basketball championship

Canada's Joel Anthony (L, back) leaps to the net moments after New Zealand's Mika Vukona (L, front) scores next to teammate Thomas Abercrombie(R) during the Group D preliminary round match between Canada and New Zealand at the FIBA World Basketball Championships in Izmir, Turkey on September 1, 2010. New Zealand won Canada 71-61. Getty Images/ FRANCK FIFE

FRANCK FIFE/The Globe and Mail

Needing a win to stay alive, Canada gave its worst effort of the world championship, scoring just eight points in the first quarter in an ugly 71-61 loss to New Zealand.

"I think New Zealand had more respect of what they were fighting for than we did," said Jevohn Shepherd, a Toronto forward who led Canada with 15 points off the bench. "It wasn't a matter of X's and O's. In a game like this you have to gut it out. You have to keep fighting no matter what the situation is."

New Zealand, needing a win as badly as Canada, consecrated the event with the Haka war dance before the game, chanting Maori words that translate as: "It's death. It's death. It's life. It's life. This is the man, the fierce powerful man."

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For Canada, it's death. Now 0-4 in the Group D round robin, it will only be playing for pride in the final match Thursday against defending world champion Spain, which qualified by knocking out Lebanon, 91-57.

For New Zealand, it's life. With back-to-back wins over Lebanon and Canada, it advances to the knock-out phase in Istanbul next week, along with Spain, France and Lithuania.

Lacking NBA stars or high-profile stars in a country known for rugby, not basketball, New Zealand was simply the fierce powerful man, which, as the chant says, "captured the sun and caused it to shine."

Canada, on the other hand, was sluggish, and its play was as yawn-inducing as Izmir's midday heat. Canada missed the leadership and shooting of injured guard Andy Rautins, who got a late night message from his owners, the New York Knicks, saying he had to fly home to prepare for his inaugural NBA season. The Canadian crew also missed some of its best shooters, Carl English and Jesse Young, whose injuries kept them out of the tournament. And the team missed a lot of shots, hitting just 22 of 60 from the field and 15 of 25 from the line.

"I felt like we were running in quicksand. Nothing would get going," Canadian coach Leo Rautins said. "Shots wouldn't fall. It seemed we were a step slow on everything we tried to do. I expect to outrebound every opponent we play. People weren't getting off the ground, weren't getting in the lanes."

New Zealand's coach, Nenad Vucinic, said he was proud of his smaller team grabbing 41 rebounds to Canada's 32. "It wasn't a pretty game. Must win games are usually not pretty games," he said. "Today was a hard defensive battle, it was physical. Teams don't get bigger than Canada, they are very tall. It's not easy to outrebound those teams."

Needing to win by more than 20 points in case of tie-breakers, Canada came out running and gunning - and missing, with guard Denham Brown going 1-for-5. The trend continued throughout a game that Canada rarely led.

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Shepherd tried to spark rallies with rebounds and slashing drives.

Canadian forward Jermaine Bucknor knocked over New Zealand counterpart Pero Cameron - a boulder of a man - to try and awaken Canada's fighting spirit.

But other than centre Joel Anthony's 6-for-9 shooting and 13 points, and forward Kelly Olynyk's second night of hustle, Canada looked like a team out of gas, having spent its fuel in draining battles against Lebanon, Lithuania and France.

New Zealand, with the help of its fans taunting Canada with "USA, USA," shot 8-for-15 in the second quarter to take a 35-28 halftime lead. Led by Kirk Penney with 18 points and long-haired forward Frank Casey with 14, New Zealand hit nine three-point shots, compared to two for Canada.

Down 47-41 after three quarters, Canada suffered again in the fourth quarter from weird foul calls, going into the penalty with six minutes left, down 54-45. With guard Jermaine Anderson going 2-for-10 and forward Levon Kendall 0-for-4, Canada missed off-balance jumpers and easy putbacks, while Frank and Cameron outmuscled them inside.

Making just three of 11 field-goal attempts, Shepherd, 22, at least got himself to the free throw line, hitting 9-for-13. After an errant three-pointer, Rautins called him over. Shepherd told him he was just trying to get something going. Rautins, recalling the conversation, said he understood, but wanted Shepherd to drive inside, which he did. "I had no issue with him. He brought some emotion to a team that was flat. Maybe some of the shots he took weren't the best, but when nothing is happening, you take what you can get."

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A three-pointer by Brown, who had 12 points, put Canada to within five with two minutes left, but threes by Penny and Thomas Abercrombie sapped the last hope out of Canada, leaving players and coaches to talk about the future and a rich crop of upcoming young talent.

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