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IWBF - Canada claims fifth women's world title

Toronto (IWBF Women's World Wheelchair Basketball Championship) - Perhaps it was the will of a nation that carried Canada to the gold medal in the 2014 IWBF Women's Wheelchair Basketball World Championships with a 54-50 win over London Paralympic champions Germany on a home court in Toronto.

More likely though, it was the consistent and focused play of Cindy Ouellet, Janet McLachlan, Katie Harnock and their teammates that saw the 2010 bronze medalists re-exert their wheelchair basketball pedigree after a disappointing sixth place finish two years ago in London.

"Coming from sixth place in London back to the podium, that's what we talked about and I don't think a lot of people had faith that we could move that high up in the rankings," said Canada's veteran Tracey Ferguson, "but the team believed that we could and we bought into a common goal."

Meanwhile, the Netherlands took the bronze medal over the USA with a 74-58 win.

With little rest from the semifinal matches and playing their eighth game in nine days, neither team looked as sharp in the penultimate match as they had the previous day. Neither had an easy path to get there.

Canada needed a final second basket to beat European champions Netherlands 75-74, while Germany were pushed to the limit by the USA before sealing their win from the free-throw line in the game's waning minutes.

The Canadians and Germans met earlier in the week during pool play, a game won by Germany 64-53. The game was closer than that might look with Canada leading late in the third quarter before turnovers and missed shots took their toll.

"We have a really good relationship with the German program," said Canada coach Bill Johnson. "We played them probably a dozen times and we haven't beaten them all year. We kept talking the whole time, we only got to beat them once and I guess we saved it for when it counted."

McLachlan was a monster on the court for Canada throughout the tournament, averaging 21.5 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. She dominated the defensive boards in the gold medal game with 17 rebounds, 19 in total.

However, it was her second-half shooting that made the difference for the home team. After going 2 of 9 in the first half, McLachlan - who hit 59 percent of her shots for the tournament - hit 5 of 8 including a short jumper to put her team ahead 50-42 with 2:44 to play.

It wasn't just McLachlan.

One of the better shooting teams in the championship, averaging 54 percent coming into the game, Germany's accuracy fell to 44% in the final. Much of that was from an uncharacteristic 1 for 10 shooting performance by Gesche Schuenemann, who had been having a great tournament up to the final, averaging 17 points per game. On most days that wouldn't matter with teammates like Marina Mohnen and Mareike Adermann who led Germany with 20 and 10 points in the final.

But this wasn’t most days as Ouellet matched McLachan's 15 to lead Canada with Harnock adding 12 and Tracey Ferguson 10. Ouellet, who averaged a tournament tops 8.8 assists per game, had 11 in the final.

During the trophy and medal presentations, IWBF President Maureen Orchard said: "Today we celebrate a new world champion". New from 2010 perhaps but anything but new as Canada have now won five of the seven world titles contested since 1990.

In the Bronze Medal Game - a rematch of the third-place game in London - the result was the same as the Netherlands took the win.

Inge Huitzing set a tournament record, according to wheelchair basketball historian Tip Thiboutot, with 43 points. Mariska Beijer added 17 for the Dutch. Rebecca Murray led the Americans with 22 points with Rose Hollerman adding 14 along with 13 rebounds.

If the USA thought early on they had found a solution for Huitzing, they soon learned the folly of that assumption. After a slow start where she missed 7 of 8 shots, the Dutch dynamo hit 7 of the next 10 and powered her team to a second dominating win over the Americans.

Meeting earlier in pool play, the Dutch won handily 76-54. In that one, the Netherlands jumped out early and were never threatened.

In the medal match, the USA led early in the third period but once the Dutch pushed ahead by 11 on a Huitzing shot with seven minutes to play, the Americans started chasing the game. They made errors and missed shots allowing the deficit to grow to 23.

It was the first World Championship medal for the Netherlands and follows the bronze that they won in London, also over the USA.

"Of course it's always good to win a medal," said Dutch coach Gertjan van der Linden. "For us, it's the first medal we've won at the Worlds. So we did a really good job. The girls had a terrible night because of the loss to Canada. But altogether we also did a good job."

This was also the first time that the USA finished off the podium at a World Championship. They won gold at the first event in 1990 and also in 2010 and finished second to Canada at the four editions in between.

Great Britain took fifth place with a 77-70 win over Australia. Helen Freeman scored 41 for the British, while Amber Merritt led Australia with 32.

When British Wheelchair Basketball reached beyond their borders to hire American coach Miles Thompson away from the University of Alabama and USA programs, they gave him one simple charge: make our women's team better.

In his first major tournament, he did just that, leading the team to a best-ever world result with a defeat of London Paralympic silver medalists Australia.

The Aussies fought back from a seven-point halftime deficit to send the contest into extra time behind Meritt's performance. But that was more than overshadowed by the tournament's first triple-double, an epic individual display by Freeman who, along with her then tournament high of 41 points, also had 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Louise Sugden and Clare Griffiths added 12 and 10 respectively for the Brits.

Other individual standouts were Japan's Mari Amamoto, who led all scorers with a 24.7 average over six games, Beijer who hit 65.8 percent of her shots from the field and the pair of Murray and Huitzing, who both made 42 percent of their three-point attempts.

2014 IWBF Women's Wheelchair Basketball World Championships
Final standings
1. Canada
2. Germany
3. Netherlands
4. USA
5. Great Britain
6. Australia
7. China
8. France
9. Japan
10. Mexico
11. Brazil
12. Peru

The action will move to Incheon, South Korea for the IWBF Men's Wheelchair Basketball World Championships (3-15 July).