LONDON - Allison McNeill didn't say a word to Teresa Gabriele, Kim Smith and Chelsea Aubry when she subbed her three veterans out of Tuesday's game with a little under a minute and a half to go.
She didn't need to.
The trio who have been the backbone of Canada's women's basketball team for the better part of a decade likely played their final game together — a 91-48 quarter-final loss to the United States that ended their historic run at the London Olympics.
"Obviously that was last time you're going to be on the basketball court probably so (the coaches) asked if we wanted to stay and play until the end of the game or if we wanted to be subbed," said Gabriele, subbed out with 1:16 remaining.
"Seeing them all come off, you're emotional and it's probably the last time this group is going to play together. Definitely hard. I think it hit everybody a little bit more and emotions were flying high."
The Canadians were making their first-ever appearance in the Olympic quarter-finals after qualifying for a Games for the first time in 12 years.
It came to an end at the hands of a mighty American squad that is gunning for its fifth consecutive Olympic title. The Americans have won 39 consecutive Olympic basketball games — a streak that stretches back 20 years to the day.
Smith, from Mission, B.C., scored 13 points, while Aubry of Kitchener, Ont., added 10. Krista Phillips of Saskatoon added eight rebounds.
Knowing they would need an upset of monstrous proportions to get past the world's No. 1 team, the players said their goal coming out of the locker-room at halftime — already down 41-21 — was to enjoy their final moments playing together.
McNeill, Canada's coach for the last 11 years, knows there will be some retirements after London.
The 32-year-old Gabriele, the only remaining player from Canada's team at the 2000 Olympics, wasn't ready to say she'll walk away from the game. But McNeill wrapped the five-foot-five guard in an embrace after the game.
"I said I'm not letting go first and she said I'm not either," said McNeill. "It's just the emotion of going through this journey together."
McNeill has coached her three veteran players — starting out at basketball camps — since they were young girls. She's not looking forward to the day she doesn't have them around.
"You're just going 'Oh my gosh...,'" said McNeill, who cried when she spoke to reporters. "Chelsea Aubrey, I just asked if I could adopt her because I'll miss her if she retires.
"These two weeks, I have to say, have been unbelievably great. So much fun to be in every game, to be on a track where you're competing to actually get a medal. I don't really think we thought we could medal, but every day we tried to medal."
Gabriele's teammates talked about how proud they were of their captain, who has financed her basketball career by working for her parents' bread company, rising at 4 a.m. daily to make deliveries to Abbotsford stores.
"So proud of her," Smith said, pausing to wipe away tears with her towel. "She's just been through so much in her career, and maybe what people back home don't understand is the sacrifices and she's done that for 12 years and she has really given it everything that she has."
McNeill called Gabriele "the gold standard."
"And she's very hurt here (Achilles and plantar fasciitis), but she still played great," McNeill said. "She's just committed for so long and she has such a passion for playing, so she, at 32, with all her injuries, she skips into practice like I am like the kid in the world to be able to still play basketball. She just has a passion for it."
The 11th-ranked Canadians earned the last spot available for the Games at a second-chance qualifying tournament on Canada Day. But they held their own during the tournament with their losses to France, Russia and Australia all coming by a narrow margin.
"Twelve years later (since the 2000 Sydney Games) ... right now obviously the emotions are kind of flying high," Gabriele said. "But we did what we could, and I think we proved to the world that we're right there with the best in the world, it was a great tournament for us."
Gabriele, Smith and Aubry have played in the last two world championships, but the three say there's no platform bigger than the Olympics.
"I'm proud of the way we've grown the game in our country," Smith said. "The messages we've received from young girls back home who are supporting us, and what it does to be able to watch a team in the Olympics, it's huge."
Diana Taurasi, a former WNBA No. 1 draft pick, scored 15 points to lead an American team that had five players score in double digits. The Americans also grabbed 48 rebounds and forced Canada to turn the ball over 26 times.
The U.S. took control from the opening tip-off in front of a crowd of 8,915 that included NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
The Americans led 19-8 after the first quarter, then pushed harder on the pedal, leading 68-31 after three.