When Canada’s most famous female basketball player Kim Smith was seen hobbling around with her ankle encased in ice at the start of the warm-up there seemed no way she would play in the second of the two Standard Life challenge games against Great Britain at Meadowbank yesterday.
But it was the former Sacramento Monarchs WNBA guard who led the charge when the visitors came out all guns blazing a few minutes later. They took charge of the game, going on to win 63-50 make it honours even for the weekend after Team GB had won an exhilarating first game 70-57 on Saturday to the delight of the big crowd.
Smith, an unerring jump shooter who had been top scorer with 19 in that game, has never been to an Olympics, having missed out when Canada failed narrowly to qualify for Athens in 2004 and Beijeng in 2008, but she is determined to get there this time which is why it was key for Canada to make a statement ahead of the final qualifying tournament in Turkey from June 25 to July 1.
Britain, already through to London 2012 as host nation, could yet face them again if they do make it and GB coach Tom Maher knows they will be tough opponents.
“We haven’t played such a physical team before,” said the revered Australian play-caller after yesterday’s game. “It took us time to adjust to it, but it was good experience and we’ve got a tape of it.”
“We can improve greatly and at least we’re in the league but we need to play smarter and meet fire with fire.”
There were moments in the first quarter when that must have been in doubt as Canada raced to a 23-6 lead with the hosts managing a miserable three successful shots from 12 attempts, while Canada converted nine from 16 from the “field” and five from seven from the free throw line.
But Maher, who has steered Australia to Olympic finals and China last time to the quarters, has not earned his reputation lightly and GB, down by 22 at the start, came right back into it to win the second quarter 18-10 and trail by only nine.
But a stodgy third quarter in which GB could not get closer than four was followed by a final ten minutes lit up by three three-pointers in a row from a player who had not touched the court on Saturday, Courtnay Pilypaitis. She finished with 13 points from a perfect five from five shots to clinch Canada’s victory.
“We got our heads back into it in the second quarter,” said Cheshire star Jo Leedham, who along with fellow guards Natalie Stafford and Steph Collins were largely responsible for the recovery. They could not sustain the momentum, although Stafford picked up the MVP award, both she and Leedham netting 14.
“We weren’t consistent today – they were more physical and we got a taste of our own medicine and made silly mistakes,” added Leedham.
Sadly Edinburgh’s Rose Anderson, the only Scot in the team, could not quite repeat the near-dream spell she enjoyed in Saturday’s game when her 12-minute contribution of four points, three assists and two rebounds earned her the third highest efficiency rating in the team after Leedham, who scored 15 in that game, and Stafford who had 16.
Recent addition Temi Fagbeni also caught the eye in this game scoring 11 points and demonstrating an impressive athleticism. Yesterday Anderson picked up two early fouls and two more in quick succession in the third quarter on either side of two free throws earned by a drive to the basket.
Hopefully Maher, who must make the final cuts in his squad from 14 to 12 in the near future and is hoping to have starting centre Kim Butler back from injury for their trip to Ankara later this week, was more impressed with the former Kool Kat on Saturday than he was disappointed yesterday.
“I thought she played particularly well,” he said after the first game. “Her energy was really great and she adds to our speed tremendously.”
Anderson, who was mobbed by autograph hunters on both days, wisely refused to speculate on her fate, saying: “I try not to think of that. We came out a bit flat today while Canada probably had their necks wrung.”
“Player for player they’re probably better than us but we’ll take some good lessons from this and we need to be more hard-nosed.”
GB’s demanding schedule continues this week after they flew south to Surrey last night.
They will train for two days before flying out to Ankara to play Argentina, South Korea and Turkey.
“Argentina and Korea will offer us different styles,” added Maher.