Canadian post Natalie Achonwa will face a powerful Australian frontline on Sunday (Getty Images)
On form and reputation, Canada is a prohibitive underdog against Australia on the final day of the women's basketball round-robin at London 2012.
But Group B, which has been the more thrilling side of engaging women's hoops tourney that's averaged 8,500 fans per game, has shot holes in form and turned reputations inside-out. Even though the group includes host Great Britain and Alison McNeill's plucky Canucks (2-2), who were the last team to qualify, all but one game has been decided by fewer than 10 points. Matching Australia is going to be a very tall order for Canada, but overachieving has kind of been their thing.
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But Australia (3-1) has a behemoth in the paint in 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage (AKA Slambage) of the WNBA's Tulsa Shock, who dunked on Friday when Australia righted itself with a four-point win over Russia. Six-six Suzy Batkovic and 6-5 Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm make for a formidable front line, especially considering that Canada counts on young posts such as Krista Phillips and Nathalie Achonwa from Notre Dame.
McNeill's game plan in Friday's 79-73 win over Brazil covered for that callowness at centre. Canada was able to draw Brazils' posts out of the low post, which led to more favourable matchups for wings and guards such as Kim Smith and Courtnay Pilypaitis, who scored 14 points each on a day when Canada shot a ridiculous 66.7 per cent from two-point range.
That was far above Canada's usual efficiency, as the Shona Thorburn-paced offence maintained a great flow for about three-quarters of the Games, with the 30-year-old handing out eight assists among the 24 Canada had on 30 made baskets.
With France at 4-0, Australia and Russia at 3-1 and Canada even at 2-2, the math is pretty simple. Australia won by four over Russia, which beat Canada by five points earlier in the tournament. Thus Canada needs a seven-point win and a Russian loss to French to come out ahead in a three-way tiebreaker and earn second in the group — which, much like Canada's soccer team, would defer facing Team USA in the knockout stages.
Meantime, Australia is also hopefully of prevailing in a three-way tiebreaker to decide first place in the group. They need to win Sunday and have Russia, the European champion, beat France. That scenario is probably closer to what will happen, but Canada has shown it can gum up the works.
Many might rue the close losses to France (64-60) and Russia (58-53) that have would have kept a matchup with four-time defending champion Team USA at bay. However, Group B has been incredibly tough. How tough? The undefeated French needed a last-second three-pointer by Celine Dumerc just to get out with a win vs. winless Team GB. In any event, Canada's done great to get this far.
"I don't think anyone here would have expected us to get to the eight," Pilypaitis told the National Post on Friday. "I think we're really happy that we can show Canada — and the world — what our basketball team is all about."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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