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Croatia's players celebrate their victory against Canada (UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
Croatia's players celebrate their victory against Canada (UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

Canada loses to Croatia in women’s Olympic basketball quarter-final Add to ...

The coach’s words are brave, but the task is ominous for Canada’s women’s basketball team.

The Canadian women need to win back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday to get into the draw for the London Olympics.

The Canadian women’s team battles Argentina Saturday, and if the women win that, a second game on Sunday will pit Canada against the survivor of the Japan v South Korea match. At stake is the last Olympic berth available at the qualifying tournament in Ankara, Turkey.

“There’s no tears. It’s not over yet. We’ll get back on the horse. We’re resilient,” said head coach Allison McNeill. “But we’re not a team that will score easily.”

Canada, seeking to play women’s basketball in London at its first Olympics since 2000, lost a see-saw battle Friday with Croatia, 59-56 in a quarterfinal match Friday at the Ankara Arena.

The result gave the Croatian women their first trip to the Olympics and resigned Canada to the last-chance pool. (Later Friday the host Turks beat the Argentines; the Czech Republic beat Japan; France beat Korea.)

The Canadians were schooled Friday in a contest of field goals. The Croatians shot 51 per cent, The Canadians took 22 more shots than Croatia, but had their second inaccurate game from the field with only 37 per cent of their shots falling. “We’re not a great shooting nation, not a great shooting team,” McNeill said in a telephone interview. “At the end of the day we just missed shots that you probably shouldn’t at the level – and they didn’t.”

Against Croatia, Canada had a five-point lead after three quarters, but was outscored 18-10 in the fourth. Croatia scored on frequent foul shots to cut down Canada’s lead and eventually take over. Courtnay Pilypaitis of Orleans, Ont., scored 11 points for Canada. Former WNBA guard Kimberley Smith of Mission, B.C., who had 11 points in the opening win over Mali and has the offensive skills to lead the team, had only four points on the night on 2 of 13 shooting. She missed a pair of three-point shots late in the game.

“People are really keying on her,” McNeil said. “She’s mentally tough. She can score in a multitude of ways. I know she will come back and shoot the ball better, but we do have to get her going.”

Guelph, Ontario’s Natalie Achonwa, who sprained her ankle in Wednesday’s loss to France, tried to play and scored seven points in 15 minutes on the floor..

McNeill said she doesn’t expect her players to have trouble refocusing on the task ahead.

The head coach said the team’s psychologist talked to the team after the game and told them to look head, build on the pluses of their game – they held the high-scoring Croats to fewer than 60 points – and to make that work for them against Argentina.

“It’s not done yet,” McNeil said. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about mental toughness and resiliency over the last four years, so I think that will help us bounce back.”

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