The road to the Olympic Games went a lot smoother for Canada’s women’s basketball team this time around.
“The biggest take away from (London 2012) is that we were kind of surprised to make it to London,” said Lizanne Murphy, an 11-year veteran of the Canadian national team. “It happened so quickly. When we got there everything felt like a bit of a scramble. It took the Games to realize that we are really good and we’re just as good as a lot of the best countries in the world.”
The 2016 Canadian Olympic squad is off to a strong start in Rio, posting a 90-68 win over China on Saturday. Canada finished London 2012 with a 2-3 record in the preliminary round, which qualified them for the quarterfinals. The team lost to eventual goal medal winners, the United States, in the quarters.
A lot has happened since London. The team finished fifth at the 2014 FIBA World Championship before winning gold at both the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games and FIBA Americas Championship in Edmonton. The recent success has given the Canadian team a lot more confidence heading into Rio, said Murphy.
“We know we can play at this level and we’ve been preparing for the Games for the past year. We’re coming in with a lot more composure and a lot more confidence this time around.”
While there has been a lot of attention put on the team’s younger players – particularly Kia Nurse – Canada features a large group of veterans. Seven of the 12 players on the 2016 team – Murphy, Natalie Achonwa, Miranda Ayim, Kim Gaucher, Michelle Plouffe, Tamara Tatham and Shona Thorburn – played in London.
The veterans’ impact was shown on Saturday. Tatham, 30, led the team in points with 20 while Murphy, 31, had 12.
Achonwa, a member of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever who had six points against China, feels that her game has changed since 2012.
“I think I’ve taken the time to learn the game and understand the game a little bit more in terms of making reads and knowing how my teammates play,” said the 23-year-old.
“The best part of being integrated into Canada Basketball so young is that it’s kind of ingrained in my style of play no matter what jersey I have on. It makes it a little bit easier when I’m transitioning (from the WNBA to the national team).”
Canada enters the Games ranked ninth in the FIBA women’s rankings. They faced a tough opponent straight out of the gate, going up against eighth ranked China.
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“Everyone is going to be good at the Olympics,” said Murphy. “It’s the top 12 teams in the world so every game is going to be tough.
“All the top teams in the world are here. We want to show what we got against them.”
As part of Group B, Canada will also face Serbia (ranked 14th), Senegal (24th), the United States (1st) and Spain (3rd) in the preliminary round. The top four teams move on to the knockout stage.
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Rio 2016 marks just the sixth time Canada has qualified a women’s basketball team for the Olympic Games. Canada has never won a medal, with their best finish being fourth at Los Angeles 1984. This year’s team hopes to change that.
“We have a goal to medal,” said Achonwa. “We have a goal to wear our jersey with pride no matter where we are or what we’re doing and come out with a medal.”