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Tuesday, July 18, 2000

A tale of two teams

Men looking tough; women need work


  MONTREAL -- The whole point of this twin three-game, four-day, pre-Olympic exercise was to get a snapshot -- to find out what Canada's Sydney-bound basketball teams are made of.

 The women's story we'll get to shortly.

 The men? They showed during last night's last-second 74-73 loss to Brazil at Maurice Richard Arena that they're without question a one-for-all and all-for-one kind of group -- one willing to make the Tie Domis among you proud.

 A bench-clearing brawl in the dying moments last night, complete with chairs and punches thrown in anger, was without question the hallmark of the past four days, which saw the women's team finish with two losses in three games and the men with two wins.

 Last night's melee, although somewhat inevitable given the emotional and physical nature of the previous two Canada-Brazil games, nevertheless cemented the notion that what the men's team lacks in size or depth, it's willing to make up for in moxie and heart.

 And at the end of the day, the emotional experience -- before a raucous crowd of 1,800 -- will do nothing but help this team come together before Sydney eight weeks hence.

 STARTING FIGHTS

 "I had 11 years of it," Canada's coach, Jay Triano, said. "It used to happen a lot more regularly. It's good for these guys to experience something like that. I remember starting fights when we were down 15."

 With under 51/2 minutes remaining, Canada's Greg Newton hung on the rim to avoid hurting anyone after dunking the ball and giving Canada a 66-60 lead -- a lead earned in comeback fashion after falling behind by 10 and with Winnipeg centre Todd MacCulloch out with a slightly sprained left ankle.

 The Brazilian player known simply as Aylton grabbed Newton's legs and spun him to the floor. Canada's Shawn Swords came up punching. Newton came up pushing. The Brazilian bench emptied. Canada followed suit. A brief, wild melee resulted, which produced ejections for all three players.

 No sooner did play resume, Canada's Steve Nash put his body in the line of fire on a Brazilian break, drew a charge and the ejection of Brazilian point guard Andrew Fonseca when the latter argued the call.

 Nash missed a good look from 16 feet with two seconds left that likely would have given Canada a victory. The shot was there, the ball hit the inside of the front and back rim before bouncing out. It was exactly what Triano called for.

 By far the more important thing was that the men have shown they still are made of the same cohesive stuff they demonstrated last summer when they qualified for the Olympics.

 And the women?

 After a solid win in the opening game four days ago in Hamilton, two consecutive losses -- including a particularly stiff 66-48 loss last night to Cuba, which is among the best teams in the world -- has underscored some problem areas for coach Bev Smith. But that was the idea.

 OFFENCE A PROJECT

 Defence isn't the problem. Canada held the Cubans to 66 or fewer points in two of the three games despite a significant size and strength disadvantage.

 Offence, however, remains a project.

 "I see us scoring more points in Sydney," Smith said last night. "I need to focus on that and give them things they can use."

 After nearly 13 minutes, the Canadian women had scored exactly two field goals, and not surprisingly trailed by 18 at that point.

 Canada was too content, particularly early, to settle for, and miss, perimeter jump shots, resulting in a 32.6% field goal percentage by game's end.

 It's necessary to keep in mind it is a young team, retooling after a disastrous showing in Atlanta four years ago. There are some promising players, among them Aurora's Cal Bouchard and Brockville's Stacey Dales.

 "We had a little less heart (yesterday). But we have to keep things in perspective. We're on the right road," Smith said. "What this is about is progression.

 "We wanted to get hammered now so we know what we're dealing with."