Team Canada grinds out a victory over China at UFV

It wasn't an offensive masterpiece by any means, but the Canadian senior women's basketball team picked up a confidence-boosting victory.

Team Canada point guard Teresa Gabriele hoists a shot over a pair of Chinese opponents

It wasn’t an offensive masterpiece by any means, but the Canadian senior women’s basketball team picked up a confidence-boosting victory over China on Friday as they gear up for Olympic qualifying.

Team Canada won the rubber match of the Jack Donohue International Classic, edging China 45-37 in a gritty, physical battle at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Allison McNeill’s Canadian squad had won the opener of the exhibition series 78-66 at the Langley Events Centre on Wednesday, and China won the second game 67-51 at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Thursday.

The fact the two teams were playing each other for a third time in three days manifested itself in a pair of ways on Friday. Both squads struggled offensively, particularly in the first half – the product of fatigue and familiarity. The game also had a relentlessly rugged feel to it.

“It gets a tiny bit chippy because it’s like guarding your best friend for three days,” McNeill, the Canadian head coach, said afterward. “You kind of know them inside and out.”

Testing themselves against a physical foe figures to serve Canada in good stead, though, as they prepare for the FIBA Olympic Qualification Tournament, which opens June 25 in Ankara, Turkey. The top five teams from that 12-team competition advance to the London Olympics.

“It’ll be grind-it-out affairs there, for sure, it’ll be physical,” McNeill noted. “You’re going to clutch and grab and do whatever you can to get to the Olympics.”

Generating offence was a grind for both teams in the early going – Canada led 11-10 after the first quarter, and 19-16 after the second. The Canadians made just 37.5 per cent of their attempts from the floor in the half, while China shot 32.0 per cent.

Canada hit its stride after the break, opening the third quarter on a 10-2 run, with Kim Smith – a product of Heritage Park Secondary in Mission – swishing a key three-pointer in that spurt.

The Canucks stretched the lead to as many as 14 points in the third, but China battled back to within eight early in the fourth. But a put-back by Smith and a trey from point guard Teresa Gabriele – another Heritage Park grad – helped Canada regain control.

Smith picked up player of the game honours after leading Canada with 12 points and eight rebounds. Alisha Tatham was the only other double-figure scorer with 10 points, while Xiaoli Chen led China with eight points.

Wei Wei, China’s towering 6’9″ centre, hauled in seven rebounds, but Canada limited her to two points on 1-for-5 shooting.

GABRIELE IS CANADA’S ‘GOLD STANDARD’

For Gabriele, this Olympic campaign is particularly meaningful because it will be her last. The 33-year-old veteran is the lone holdover from the last time Canada qualified for the Olympics, back in 2000.

While many of her teammates play professionally overseas, the 5’5″ point guard works out on her own locally. She works for her family’s bread business, stocking shelves at Costco and Walmart in the early mornings before devoting the rest of her day to training.

Gabriele plans to retire from the national team this year – ideally after a trip to London – and focus on a new career as a certified professional trainer.

“There would be nothing better than to be able to go out with an Olympic experience,” said Gabriele, who scored five points and added three assists in a game-high 34 minutes on Friday. “I think that would be an amazing way to end my career.”

McNeill joked that she’ll try to talk Gabriele into staying on with the national team, but she doesn’t think it’ll work.

“She’s meant an awful lot to this program over a great many years, and she is really the gold standard for commitment to the national program in this country,” McNeill said. “In Canada, when you finish university, you’re 22 and you’re done. At the last World Championships, we were the only country there without a domestic pro league for women.

“So Teresa’s had to do it on her own, where a lot of players stop playing. But I think she’s inspired others to stay with it longer. She’s married, she’s going to have a family, but you can do both.

“I think she’s inspired a whole generation of young girls. Not to mention that she’s a fantabulous player – still.”

Canada’s Alisha Tatham drives to the hoop against a Chinese opponent on Friday evening at UFV. (John Morrow photo)

Just Posted

UPDATE: Rockslide keeps Coquihalla northbound lane closed

Highway 5 is closed in one direction.

UPDATE: Wind warning ends for Metro Vancouver after thousands lose power

More than 34,000 BC Hydro customers in the dark on Sunday morning in the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast

Downtown Mission: Ready to revitalize

With the bidding process underway, construction could start by mid-March

Guilty plea issued in case where man, 86, was assaulted and robbed

Hughie Stump pleads guilty to break-and-enter in relation to Abbotsford incident

WIND WARNING: Metro Vancouver expecting 100 km/h gusts Saturday night

Environment Canada issues warns of possibly dangerous conditions

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

5 to start your day

Wind storm causes weekend power outages, thousands join women’s marches, and more

A look at potential Canadian nominees for this year’s Oscars

The nominations are to be revealed Tuesday morning for the 90th Academy Awards

B.C. expert weighs in on why kids are eating Tide pods for fun

Why are kids taking part in something completely pointless yet so risky?

Philadelphia Eagles headed to Super Bowl

After routing the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, they will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots

Heavy snowfall closes Mount Washington on Vancouver Island

Road to ski resort deemed unsafe, vehicles buried under more than three feet of snow

VIDEO: Dramatic video shows return of rescued B.C. snowboarders

Two snowboarders were rescued near Rossland, B.C. on Sunday after being lost overnight.

Tom Brady leads Patriots back to Super Bowl, top Jaguars 24-20

New England to face winner of Sunday night’s game between Minnesota and Philadelphia on Feb. 4

Coquihalla drivers prepare for snow

Wintry conditions persist, with snow warnings for Coquihalla

Most Read