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Canada women take gold-medal effort into each game
ISTANBUL (FIBA World Championship for Women/FIBA Americas Championship for Women) - When a team falls out of the medal hunt in a competition like the FIBA World Championship for Women, the disappointment is tremendous.
The air, as the saying goes, leaves the balloon.
The sides that lost in the last eight in Turkey had to enter the Classification Round and play for positions five through eight and not for spots on the podium.
Anyone who watched Canada bounce back from their 63-52 Quarter-Final defeat to Australia with a 55-40 triumph over France and a 61-53 win over China will know that Classification Round games are very important.
The victories secured fifth place for the Canadians.
"We're still a team that's proving we belong here so any win we can get at a World Championship is a massive win for us," said Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis to FIBA.com.
"We'll take that any day."
Canada were so hungry after their loss to the Opals that they when they returned to the court to face France in their first Classification Round game, they raced into a 37-16 lead by half-time.
"France is a great team," Thomaidis said.
"For us to show that not only can we compete with them but beat them on a big stage like the World Championship is gigantic for our team and for our improvement and progress as a program."
Thomaidis, a former assistant on the national team to long-time coach Allison McNeill, was the head coach of the Canadians for the second straight summer.
She steered the side to a runners-up finish at the FIBA Americas Championship for Women in 2013.
Thomaidis believes the squad is a head of schedule, and it's helping that youngsters are making an impact.
"A big part is being able to get these kids into our program early," she said.
"For Kia (Nurse, 19 years old) to be able to spend two full summers with us before going away to college and to get that experience is just invaluable and Nirra (Fields, 20) coming in, the Plouffes (Katherine and Michelle, both 22) - all those young kids - to have them spend an extended period of time with us so that we're on the same page …
"We're not going to 'out-talent' anyone so we need to be able to play as a unit, to play smart and be very deliberate in our offensive and defensive systems. We can't have people come in who spend a few weeks together.
"We were able to do that the past few years and you can see it paying off now."
Beverly Smith, an assistant coach with Canada, understands very well the approach the national team program must have to be successful.
She once represented the country herself.
"Our medals are the Classification Round right now," Smith said to FIBA.com.
"We understand where we are in the world and what we have to do. We don't have yet the players that the United States, Australia and Spain have but we're getting there and we will get them so every game we play is almost a gold medal game for us because we've got to take steps, take strides.
"We are always talking about gold medal performance and so our players never take for granted any type of opportunity on the international scene."
Smith was a leading player in the Canada team that finished third at the 1979 World Championship for Women in Seoul, Korea, and the 1986 World Championship for Women in the Soviet Union.
In the second, she was among the tournaments leading scorers at more than 18 points per game.
Smith wants Canada to be among the elite teams again.
"It's been a long, hard process and I know that Canada basketball took its lumps from 2001 through 2008," she said.
"Finally the qualification for 2012 (Olympics), really galvanized the group. It does take time.
"You have to be patient and you have to follow the process. I think this group, with a blend of old and young, has really taken care of business."
One key for this year's team was the readiness of the players from the start of training camp.
They hit the court running.
"We don't have to talk to them about conditioning any more," Smith said.
"They come to training camp ready. They don't come to get into conditioning at training camp.
"They were fit, they were strong and they were ready to take the next step.
"And that's what you need to take that next step, before you can even think about competing in your fifth game in seven days.
"So they are a very wise group, helping our youngsters understand that international basketball is a full-time commitment."
Miranda Ayim was a vitally important player for Canada this year and she was thrilled with the team's attitude and perseverance.
"After our loss which dropped us into the 5-8 bracket, we just weren't going to play out games," she said to FIBA.com.
"We wanted to win the rest of our games if we could. Fifth is the best that Canada has done since '86 so we're really happy with the progress that we made and we're going to continue to build."
Canada Basketball will be in the spotlight next year because the country is hosting the FIBA Americas Championship for Women in Edmonton.