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Canadian women win big at Olympic-qualifying event, thumping Mali 89-23

06/25/2012 04:44 EDT | Updated 08/25/2012 05:12 EDT
ANKARA, Turkey - Courtnay Pilypaitis and the Canadian women's basketball team moved a step closer toward qualifying for the London Games.

Pilypaitis scored 15 points and 11 teammates also got on the scoreboard as Canada thumped Mali 89-23 on Monday in the opening game for both teams at a FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament.

The Canadians, ranked 11th in the world, can clinch a quarter-final berth Tuesday with a victory over No. 8 France.

"This was a really good warmup game for us," Pilypaitis said. "We're all pretty excited to play France, we've had a pretty good rivalry with them the past couple of years and it's just a chance for us to get better."

Canadian team coach Allison McNeill said Mali came into Monday's game minus many of its top players and put a very young squad on the court.

"It was not the team we expected to see," she said. "It was a difficult game to play.

"You're really jacked up and ready to go and then you realize they don't have their best players. At the end of the day it is what it is, we got everybody in and everybody scored and we got our legs and any jitters we might've had are gone so we're going to say it was a good game."

The Africans made just eight of 52 shots, scoring six, four, four and nine points in the four quarters.

Kimberley Smith had 11 points for Canada while Miranda Aym added 10.

"We missed some shots in the first half . . . in the second half we settled down and ran our stuff and got some really good shots," NcNeill said.

Nassira Traore led Mali with seven points.

Canada, ranked fourth in the tournament, outrebounded Mali by a whopping 58-19 margin but McNeill knows it will be a different story against France.

"France is the highest-ranked team in our pool and we know them really well and how good they are," she said. "But we also know we can play with them and have played well against them.

"We're excited to play them."

Canada dropped a 66-41 decision to France in Lyon earlier this month to conclude an exhibition tournament with a 2-1 record. It was the Canadian team's final warmup prior to the Olympic qualifying competition.

"I think having film on them from last time for us to look at and then get on the floor will really help us," McNeill said.

The Canadians must finish in the top five at the 12-team qualifier to earn a spot in London, and a quarter-final berth would be a huge step toward recording that achievement. A quarter-final victory would allow Canada to punch its ticket to the Summer Games.

If Canada drops that game, it will join the other quarter-final losers and have to play off for the fifth and final Olympic qualifying spot.

The Canadian women have not made it to the Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Games. Canada's only team qualified for London so far is women's soccer.

The Canadian women's basketball team failed to earn a London berth at the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament last fall, but its third-place finish guaranteed the squad a spot in the last-chance qualifier in Turkey.

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