PUERTO MONTT, Chile – Canada is on a record run at the FIBA U19 women’s world basketball championships – a remarkable performance for a team that had barely strung together two passes before just a few weeks ago.
“They’re great competitors, that’s probably the one really significant thing,” said coach Rich Chambers. “And they’re fabulous girls who have developed fabulous chemistry in a very short time.”
Canada, the only undefeated team through two preliminary rounds, battles Spain on Friday in the single-elimination quarter-finals, and a victory would guarantee the team matches its best-ever finish of fourth place two years ago in Thailand.
The team didn’t gather until tryouts three weeks ago, and had just 10 days of practising before tipping off the world tournament in Chile.
The Canadians had no specific expectations heading into the tournament, and have barely paused to reflect on results since.
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“We didn’t talk about finishing, we just talked about playing our best and being as close to our potential as we can be in each contest,” the University of Victoria Vikes coach said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We talked about our focus and narrowing our focus, and concentrating on the things that got them to making the team and got us together as a group.
“That’s what we’re still talking about, we’re not talking about outcome, we’re talking about the process.”
The approach has clearly worked thus far for the talented group of young women, whose 64-52 upset of the United States on Wednesday was their sixth consecutive victory. Their string of wins makes them the only Canadian basketball team in history to go undefeated through the first two rounds of a world tournament.
Spain went 3-3 through the preliminary rounds, but with the parity in women’s basketball, Chambers said no game at the 16-team tournament is a given.
“On the world scene, the eight teams that are left, any one of them could win the world championships. It’s that even,” said Chambers.
The Spanish finished second at the European championships, but Chambers considers them the true European champions – their coach benched his starters in anger after the first quarter of the European final, despite the team’s 14-point lead.
“They’re very good, they’re big and experienced, and they’ve been traditionally a power in Europe,” he said.
Canada will rely on its stingy defence that’s held opponents to under 40 per cent shooting in all six games. Chambers said the focus on defence has been a necessity considering the lack of time the team’s been together.
“We’ve defended well so far and rebounded well so far,” Chambers said. “That’s kind of a trademark of all Canadian teams. I think one of the areas we’ve been good at so far is we haven’t turned the ball over very much. Historically that hasn’t been the case at this age level.
“We’ve been able to generate some points in various ways, we’ve scored off our defence a little bit, which has taken some pressure off the offence, because 16, 17 days together, you can’t really get a very smooth offensive flow in.”
Chambers shrugs off any compliments for his team’s performance, saying the groundwork for success was laid long before he took the reins.
“We’ve been very fortunate to coach these girls for the last 16, 17 days, but all the credit goes to the CPs (Centres for Performance) across the country, and their high school coaches, their university coaches. That’s where the credit goes,” he said. “And the ability of the girls to work hard and the ability of them to come together as a group.”