Game Day Preview: Team-first Canadians susceptible to pressure

Game Day Preview: Team-first Canadians susceptible to pressure

Watch the Jayco Opals take on Canada LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on ABC2 at 9:00PM AEST tonight, Friday 2 October 2014.

By Paulo Kennedy - Guest Writer during the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women.

How do you scout these Canadians?

The FIBA Americas runners-up are all that stands between the Jayco Opals and a place in the medal rounds, and while they lack star power, Canada are a team in the true sense of the word.

When you look at their statistical output for this tournament, not one player is averaging more than 24 minutes, no one is averaging double-figure scoring and their leading rebounder – a shooting guard – sits below five per game.

The story was similar when they claimed silver in Mexico last year, with seven players averaging between five and 12.5 points a night.

It’s the same when you look at the team stats.

While the Canadians aren’t elite in any category, they rank between 5-11 in the tournament in points, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

One area that helped carry them to the FIBA Americas final was their dominant rebounding, but without Indiana Fever draftee Natalie Achonwa this year that advantage has been negated.

Miranda Ayim showed early in the tournament she can pick up some of that slack, particularly on the o-boards, and even though her efforts have dropped away the Australians will be well advised to keep a body on the lithe 26-year-old.

So how have Canada progressed to the quarter-finals? Largely thanks to a strong commitment to their well-spaced offensive system, and defence, giving up just 60.8ppg so far in the tournament.

There hasn’t been any magic, the Canadians simply get down in their stance, slide their feet, force opponents into dead areas on the baseline, help hard and rotate well into the passing lanes.

Their mobile bigs are more than happy to switch ball-screens, but it’s important the Opals don’t fall into the trap of one-on-one play into the help defence.

Their willingness to move the ball and create driving lanes has been an absolute highlight so far, and it becomes even more important against a disciplined Canada.

The North Americans’ defensive transition has also been excellent, but they haven't faced a high-speed team like Australia yet, who always look to push the ball hard and have left opponents in their wake.

Some ill-judged lead passes crept back into the Opals’ game against Belarus, and the mobile Canadians will swoop on these.

When the Jayco Opals wait for their bigs to seal in transition before making the entry, or use that post-up as an impromptu screen to get to the basket, good things have happened.

The Canadian bigs are one of the few frontcourts in the tournament who can potentially match the running power of the Aussies.

Tamara Tatham is arguably the quickest power forward at the tournament, and with Canada running four-out sets to give her driving lanes, the Jayco Opals bigs need to be ready for Tatham’s quick rip throughs.

Where Tatham does lack is physicality, so don’t be surprised if Brendan Joyce makes whoever the lightly-built Canadian is guarding a focus in the low block.

The Plouffe twins, Michelle and Katherine, are both versatile and multi-skilled bigs who establish position well and finish at a good rate.

Both stepped up in the knockout win over the Czech Republic, and the Jayco Opals need to be wary of this intelligent pair once the defence is forced to help.

On the perimeter perhaps the biggest key is veteran swingman Kim Gaucher, who can win a game off her own hot hand and always seems to be sinking emotion-charged three-pointers in the middle of a Canadian run.

She is an excellent rebounder and knows how to make reads and pick an opponent apart, so this is one player the Jayco Opals can’t afford to give time and space.

Gaucher’s preferred running mate is Kia Nurse, and steady point guard who defends strongly and has made just one turnover in 88 mins this tournament.

No doubt Erin Phillips will fancy her chances of ruining that statistic, but perhaps the best targets for the Aussies’ pressure are reserve guards Shona Thorburn and Miah-Marie Langlois, who have both looked shaky with the ball at times.

The x-factor for Canada, as the Czechs found out, is Nirra Fields. The athletic 20-year-old was a superstar of the U17 and U19 world championships, and came to life on Wednesday with 15 points and six boards.

Fields’ ability to get to the basket and finish through traffic is something the Jayco Opals will have to be mindful of, particularly when extending the defence up the floor.

No one in this Canadian team should hold any fear for the Australians, however, whose team defence has been truly exceptional this tournament, forcing 60 turnovers in three games.

In Canada’s two tough losses to Turkey and France they coughed the ball up 34 times, revealing a significant weakness and effectively costing themselves a shot at victory.

The key for the Aussies is to stick with their aggressive plan, even if they don’t get the red-hot start that has become their trademark in this tournament.

If the confidence gets dented by some stern Canadian resistance early, and this game becomes a possession-by-possession affair down the stretch, the Jayco Opals will be in unfamiliar territory and that means a 50-50 contest.

But it’s hard to see Canada withstanding 40 minutes of intense Aussie pressure on every offensive and defensive possession, and you can bet Coach Joyce is preaching that message.

Jayco Australian Opals v Canada
Friday 3 October @ Fenerbache Arena, Istanbul 9:00pm AEST
TV: LIVE on ABC2 Nationally 9:00pm (Vic, NSW, Qld, Tas, ACT); 8:30pm (SA, NT); 7:00pm (WA)