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September 20, 2000

Canadian women fall to 1-2 after French loss

 SYDNEY (CP) -- A stubborn Canadian team hung tough for 28 minutes before France, sparked by Audrey Sauret's three-pointer, broke the game open en route to a 70-58 victory in Olympic women's basketball play Wednesday.

 Canada fell to 1-2 in Group A and will need to beat either Slovakia on Friday or Brazil on Sunday to clinch a quarter-final berth and achieve head coach Bev Smith's goal of a top eight finish.

 But Smith saw plenty to celebrate in Wednesday's game.

 "If you would have told me two weeks ago that we would have taken France to the wire, I wouldn't have believed you," said Smith.

 The Canadian women placed 11th among 12 countries at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, their only win coming against Zaire.

 Stacey Dales of Brockville, Ont., was Canada's most effective player Wednesday, leading the team with 17 points. Dianne Norman of Fredericton contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds.

 Canada's only win to this point is against lowly Senegal and the Canadians are still searching for a victory over a country like France that will prove they belong.

 "We had a chance today to turn it up a notch but we didn't go for the jugular," said Norman, visibly upset. "If feels good that we're playing better but we'd still like to produce."

 Canada played a spirited first half against the undefeated French (3-0) and led 33-30 at the half. But with the score tied 46-46 with eight minutes to play, Sauret's three-pointer seemed to take a toll on the young Canadians.

 "It shouldn't have deflated us," Norman said. "We still have these mental lapses."

 Canada didn't have a field goal over the final five minutes.

 A group of French fans borrowed a famous tune from soccer and encouraged their team with chants of "Allez Les Bleus, Allez Les Bleus."

 The inside-outside combination of Isabelle Fijalkowski and Catherine Melain struggled for most of the game but combined to score 16 of France's last 17 points.

 Melain, a 6-0 guard, and Fijalkowski, a 6-5 centre, were both 1-for-7 from the field in the first half and Canada continued a solid defensive job on them until the final six minutes.

 Melain led France with 21 points. Fijalkowski, who plays for the WNBA's Cleveland Rockers, had 13 points and six rebounds.

 The French and Australians will play Sunday in a match that will probably decide first place in Group A.

 Clinching the quarter-final berth may allow the French players to start having fun.

 "Up to now we've played at good level without humour," France coach Alain Jardel said. "We need to take more pleasure in this and I hope they realize that."

 Should Canada beat Slovakia and secure fourth place in Group A, a date with the powerful Americans awaits in the quarter-finals on Sept. 27.


reprinted with permission

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