ISTANBUL, Turkey: Canada advanced to the quarterfinals of the women’s world championship for the first time in 20 years after knocking off the Czech Republic 91-71 on Wednesday.
After finishing 12th at the 2010 world championships which were hosted by the Czechs, Canada has seen steady improvement over the past four years led by a talented young group of players.
Kim Gaucher scored 17 points to lead Canada, which will play Australia on Friday. The Canadians last made the quarterfinals in 1994 when they finished seventh. UCLA junior Nirra Fields scored 15 points for Canada while UConn freshman Kia Nurse added 12.
In other quarterfinals qualifying games, China topped Belarus 72-67, Serbia edged Cuba 86-79 and France beat Brazil 61-48.
France’s win set up a rematch against the U.S. The French team handed the Americans a rare loss on Sept. 21 when the teams played an exhibition game in Paris.
It was the first loss by the U.S. in an international game since falling to a team from the Czech Republic in 2011 when the U.S. was on a European tour.
“We know France, we just played them recently,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “When you get to this point, into the quarterfinals, you get to the medal rounds, it’s not like you can afford to lose a game, you can’t afford to play poorly. You’re looking at one bad night and you go home.”
The U.S. beat France by 36 points in the gold medal game of the 2012 London Olympics.
China rallied from a 13-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to beat Belarus and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002.
The Chinese team will face Spain next. Shao Ting scored 15 of her 23 points in the second half, including nine in the fourth quarter to help China rally.
Former WNBA player Yelena Leuchanka had 16 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists for Belarus.
Serbia earned the final spot in the quarterfinals, beating Cuba 86-79 in a back-and-forth game. Cuba led by seven after the first period before Serbia rallied for a 42-39 halftime lead. Cuba then led by two going into the final period.
The teams traded leads in the fourth quarter before Serbia went ahead 81-77 with 1:13 left. After two free throws by Clenia Noblet cut Cuba’s deficit to two points, Serbia scored the final five points of the game to seal the victory. Next up for Serbia is host Turkey.