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Canada Women's Basketball Team Secures Berth To 2012 London Summer Games

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CANADA WOMENS BASKETBALL TEAM
Krista Phillips, Natalie Achonwa, and Lizanne Murphy of Canada's women's basketball team who were nominated to the Canadian Olympic team for 2012 London Olympics, are seen during a media announcement in Toronto on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim | CP

ANKARA, Turkey - Courtnay Pilypaitis and Canada's women's basketball team punched their tickets to the London Olympics on Sunday.

Pilypaitis had 21 points and six assists as Canada secured a berth to the 2012 Summer Games with a 71-63 win over Japan on Sunday at the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament. With the victory, the Canadians secured the last remaining berth to the London Games and will make a return to Olympic competition for the first time since 2000.

"I think this is real big," Pilypaitis said. "All the young female basketball players now are going to be able to watch us compete at the Olympics and they too can have that dream.

"Not seeing someone in the Olympics, that might go by the wayside. But now they have us to look up to as role models and that younger generation can just feed off that and hopefully continue and make it in the next four years and make more strides."

The Czech Republic, Croatia, Turkey and France all locked up Olympic berths earlier in the tournament.

Canada will be in Group B in London with Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, France and Russia.

The Canadians wasted little time taking control of the must-win game versus Japan, leading from the start thanks to opening with an 11-0 run. Canada led 37-31 at the half and took a 52-35 advantage in the third before Japan rallied with a 14-2 run to make it a closer game in the fourth.

However, the Canadians weathered the storm and never relinquished the lead en route to securing the eight-point victory.

"We're not the greatest-shooting team but we're tough and we grind it out," said Canadian team coach Allison McNeill. "We're going to play these kind of games . . . we grind it out and we're tough physically and pretty tough mentally and some nights we shoot better than others."

McNeill said she was able to keep a lid on her emotions once the game ended but added it was only fitting her team clinched an Olympic berth on Canada Day.

"Unbelievable," she said. "How cool is that?"

The Canadian team's Olympics-clinching victory also was a fitting one for Theresa Gabrielle, a native of Mission, B.C., who added 11 points and five assists against Japan. The 32-year-old point guard is the only member of the current squad who played for Canada at Sydney in 2000.

She has spent the last 12 years trying to return to Olympic competition as a member of national squads that fell short of qualifying for Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

"It has been a long time, for sure," she said. "To kind of maybe end my career at an Olympics is just an amazing experience.

"Words can't really describe anything right now. We're just all like kind of babbling right now and don't know what to say. Our emotions are obviously flying high and we're all just super excited. To do it on Canada Day is even better."

Japan shot 48 per cent from the field, compared to 45 per cent for the Canadians, who held a decided advantage from three-point range (56 per cent compared to 21 per cent for the Japanese).

Pilypaitis, a native of Orleans, Ont., and Gabrielle combined to make five three-pointers in the first in staking Canada to its six-point half-time advantage.

"We knew coming in they played a little more zone and I think it was really important for us to get some outside shots going early because the previous games we hadn't shot very well," Pilypaitis said. "We had a couple of outside shots fall and everyone got their confidence back."

The Canadians also dominated the boards, outrebounding Japan 43-23 but also committed 17 turnovers, compared to eight for the Japanese.

McNeill said her team won't head to London merely being happy to be there. She added the Canadians have the potential to be a handful at the London Games.

"Are we a favourite going in? Well, of course, we're not a favourite going in," she said. "But I think on any given night if we play well I think people will be concerned about having to play us.

"Yeah, we're going to enjoy the Olympic experience but I think we're definitely going there to try to do the best we can. I think we can make a little noise."

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