September 18, 2000

Canada Dodges Early Olympic Date with Dream Team

Sept. 18, 2000

By Chris Sheridan

The Associated Press

SYDNEY - All the men's basketball teams have played just one game at the Olympics, but Canada is already the big early winner.

By defeating favoured Australia in an opening round game, Canada increased its chances of avoiding the United States until the gold medal game. In this tournament, that's about as big a victory as a team can get.

"You want to avoid the Americans," Canada coach Jay Triano said Monday, a day after his team defeated Australia 101-90 behind 29 points from Michael Meeks and 15 assists from Steve Nash.

If Canada can defeat Angola and Spain in its next two games, its chances of winning a medal in men's basketball for the first time since 1936 will have improved tremendously.

Victories in those two games would give Canada a record of 3-0. The Canadians then would play games against highly regarded Yugoslavia and Russia, but even if they lost both they would almost certainly finish no worse than third since they already own the tiebreaker over Australia.

The mathematics of this equation are tricky since there are so many variables that would throw everything out of whack. But if the rest of the first round goes as expected, Canada will be right where it wants to be -- no lower than third in Group B.

The fourth-place team in Group B will have to play its quarter-final game against the top-seeded team from Group A, which is virtually certain to be the United States. The third-seeded team from Group B will play the second-seeded team from Group A, and the winner of that game will play the winner of the game between the top team in Group B and the fourth-place team in Group A.

Although it seems like a degree in higher mathematics and a working knowledge of calculus are prerequisites for figuring this all out, the coaches of the teams from the rest of the world know how the formula works. The bottom line: Don't finish fourth in Group B.

"The coaches try to keep us away from all that so we can focus on the task at hand," said foer Santa Clara star Nash, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks.

Nash's performance was brilliant, his passes leading to nearly half of Canada's field goals. Canada's coaches also deserved credit for switching defender Sherman Hamilton onto Australia's Andrew Gaze in the second half, shutting down the home team's best player.

The loss was a bitter disappointment for the Australians, who were expected to be among the top contenders for a silver medal. But after jumping out to a big early lead behind the cheers of the partisan crowd, they allowed Canada to steadily nip away at the lead and put the game out of reach well before the final buzzer.

"We really don't like to play games that fast or high-scoring. We want a more Canadian tempo," Triano said. "But with the way they were scoring, that's the kind of game we had to play."

The victory was similar to the one Canada pulled off in San Juan, Puerto Rico last summer to qualify for the Olympics, defeating the home team before another hostile crowd whose decibel level and fervour was many times greater than what the Canadians faced Sunday night.

"I never underestimate the heart of these guys," Triano said. "When we go bowling or play pool or bocce, these guys are unbelievably competitive. I'm not surprised at their resiliency."