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RIO DE JANEIRO - Canada’s basketball women should be in a snarling mood when they return Tuesday to the same Olympic quarter-final stage that was their undoing four years ago in London.
The difference means everything, though. At London 2012, it was the unbeatable United States that awaited a less experienced Canadian team and ended their tournament. This time around it will be France, and with six French League pros on their roster Canada knows them well.
“When we were here four years ago there was one person who’d been to the Olympics,” said captain Kim Gaucher. “We’ve got seven now. That’s a whole different ballgame. We know what it’s like to play in a quarterfinal now, and it’s a much better matchup. I think experience is huge - we have a lot more of it now.”
Canada’s most recent encounter with France was a 71-63 exhibition in their favour at Madison Square Garden, part of their final pre-Olympic tuneup last month. In June, Canada travelled to France for a tour and beat their hosts in another exhibition. In the 2014 world championships, in which Spain lost to the U.S. in the final, France beat Canada by four.
Experience will be paramount, too, in how they react coming out of a 73-60 defeat at the hands of Spain Sunday night at Deodoro’s Youth Arena.
Spanish bigs Astou Ndour and Laura Nicholls protected the rim and at the other end extended possessions with offensive rebounds. Plagued by foul trouble, Canada couldn’t find a match to contain creative small forward Alba Torrens. And a team that defines itself on defence was repeatedly cut open by Spain's passing and cutting.
France will be less chippy than Spain, but underneath the basket they’re just as much a load. But maybe the most significant thing Canada has heading into this one, at Rio’s Olympic Park in Barra after five group games in Rio’s North Zone, is a chip on their collective shoulders, given their 2012 exit in London and especially this last group game.
“We gave up - that sucks,” said forward Natalie Achonwa. “But we have more games. We already secured our bid, we’re going into the quarterfinals. So we still have a chance at our goal and that’s to medal. So we have to take a different path, but no matter what we can’t give up. That’s not Canada basketball.”
The Canada vs. France quarter-final goes Tuesday at 10:15 p.m. local time (9:15 p.m. ET).