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Opals, Belarus and Canada march on

Belarus beat Canada in a battle for second place in Group A and Australia blew out China to remain undefeated on the last day of Preliminary Round action at the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Yelena Leuchanka underlined her status as one of the top low-post players in Ostrava with a 16-rebound performance for Belarus in a 61-49 victory over the Canadians.

Five of those boards came on the offensive glass.

Leuchanka’s average of 10.7 per game makes her the second leading rebounder in the competition, which is even more impressive when considering her late arrival in Europe following the WNBA Finals.

“Many thanks for Yelena’s work,” Belarus coach Anatoli Buyalski said.

“She got back home just Monday. She had just two practices. I think in the next games will be her best.”

Leuchanka admits she isn’t as fresh as she would like.

“I don’t feel as well as I want to feel,” Leuchanka said.

“Other players came with me at the same time, though.

“We’re all professional athletes.

“We play at the highest level. I’m just trying to do whatever I can.

“For us, Belarus, it’s the first time (in the World Championship). We’re writing history books. It’s all good.”

Belarus won the battle of the boards, 42-26, while Tatyana Troina and Anastasiya Verameyenka poured in 16 and 12 points, respectively, to lead the team in scoring.

Canada’s never-say-die spirit was apparent as they prevented Belarus from pulling away.

They closed the gap to 56-47 on two Kimberley Smith free-throws with 3:28 to go but Troina went to the other end and hit a three-pointer as Belarus stayed in front.

She finished three of five from long range.

Belarus point guard Natallia Marchanka finished with seven points and visited with FIBATV.com after the game.

Canada coach Allison McNeill said: “I thought we played pretty hard defensively, pretty well. We didn’t do well on the defensive boards.

“I think their length really bothered us. Yelena was relentless and worked very hard.

“Offensively, we got some decent shots but they didn’t fall. We didn’t have a large margin for error.”

Canada were 15 of 50 from the floor and four of 16 from three-point range.

They got 11 points from captain Teresa Gabriel.

“I think we came out and played very well defensively but offensively, we didn’t shoot well from the field,” Gabriel said.

“Defensively we did what we wanted to do. We pride ourselves on that.”

Australia cruised into the Eight-Final Round with a 91-68 romp over China.

With Carrie Graf resting Lauren Jackson and playing her less than three minutes, Australia had no trouble recording a third straight victory in Group A.

“For us, it was a good chance to get our young players into the game,” Graf said.

“It was a good opponent for Belinda (Snell) and Penny (Taylor) to get more minutes. We still have some work to do defensively.”

Snell has been bothered by a calf problem while Taylor is still trying to get back to full fitness after hurting her back in a friendly against the United States a week before the tournament.

Hollie Grima is a valuable “big”, as the Aussies like to say, and she made the most of her 31 minutes on the court by scoring 14 points and hauling in eight rebounds.

Australia will face three experienced teams in the next round, including the EuroBasket champions France and the United States, who are the number one team in the FIBA World Rankings for Women.

“We’re coming up against three really good teams but we like the challenge,” Grima said.

China fought for the medals at the 2008 Olympics but they’ll have to write off the FIBA World Championship for Women as a good learning experience.

That was the opinion of captain Miao Lijie, one of the players that reached the Semi-Finals of the Beijing Games.

“I think for today, it was a really good chance to gain experience for the team,” Miao said.

“Australia is the champion of the last World Championship and we learned a lot, especially the physical contact and how to use the body in physical contact.

“So young players will learn and they must play really hard.”

After falling to Belarus and Canada, China had no chance of progressing even with a victory over the Aussies.

Sun Fengwu, the China coach, put on a brave face after the game.

“Australia was the champion in the last World Championship. The purpose for us to play this game, we had to let the young players get on the court.

“For sure, many of the young players got on the court and did a good job.”

Australia, Belarus and Canada will all compete in Group E in the Eighth-Final Round

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