Canada women’s basketball qualifies for Paris 2024 with Spain’s win
Canada is headed to Paris 2024 after finishing in the top three of the “Group of Death” in a dramatic day at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Sopron, Hungary.
Despite a four-point loss earlier in the day to Japan, Canada qualified through the backdoor thanks to a Spain win over Hungary. The Hungarians, backed by their spirited home crowd, jumped out to a shocking 22-point lead against a Spain team ranked 14 spots above them in the FIBA global rankings. Somehow, the Spanish squad staged a comeback.
Spain gave up their lead at the 2:52 mark in the first quarter and didn’t get it back for 29 minutes and 58 seconds of game time. With 55 seconds left in the fourth, Mariona Ortiz knocked down two free throws to give Spain a 73-72 lead, which ended up being the final score.
Japan clinches Olympic spot, as Canada falls in tight matchup
The Group of Death at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament had Canada on the verge of not qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 2008 after falling to Japan 86-82 on Sunday.
The Japanese were the silver medal team in Tokyo 2020, and boasted a collection of world-class players, and perimeter shooters.
Mai Yamamoto, Saori Miyazaki, and Evelyn Mawuli constantly played in transition and took advantage of open looks early in the shot clock.
Japan played at a much faster pace than Canada’s other opponents, and were forced into committing shooting fouls which played a big part down the stretch of the game.
Neither side was willing to give the other much breathing room, as there wasn’t a single double-digit lead throughout the entire game.
Japan, however, went on a 10-0 run mid-way through the second quarter and led by four at halftime.
Canada was able to retake the lead in the third quarter thanks in large part to Bridget Carleton.
Carleton, who posted an unusual 1/13 shooting mark in the game against Spain, had much more room to operate against Japan, and provided an offensive spark with nine points in the third quarter.
Japan had a late run to take a three point lead in the final quarter.
Despite the foul trouble, Canada hung in thanks to a key bench contribution from Sami Hill, and the calming presence of Kayla Alexander.
An Alexander and-one and Nirra Fields lay-up tied the game at 79 with 4:36 left, but Japan, just as they did all game, were able to punch right back and take a five-point lead of their own.
With less than a minute left and Canada down three, the Canadian put Japan through a tremendous defensive possession, only for Mai Yamamoto banked in an off-balanced lay-up with the shot clock expiring, providing the proverbial dagger.
Japan’s 86-82 win booked their ticket to Paris 2024.
Canada saw another big performance from Kayla Alexander who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Two of Canada’s guards, Bridget Carleton and Nirra Fields, were the leading scorers with 19 and 17 points respectively.
Canada dominated the glass, outrebounding Japan 45-23, but turned the ball over 15 times compared to only four from Japan. The Japanese shot 48.4% from the field, and knocked down seven threes in the win.
Olympic women’s basketball action will start on July 27, 2024 in Paris. It will be the first time since Sydney 2000 that both the women’s and men’s program have played in the same Olympic Games.
Canada falls to Spain, Olympic qualification hopes on hold until Sunday
It was a win-and-get-in scenario for Team Canada as Thursday’s victory against Hungary put them in the driver’s seat heading into the game against Spain on Friday.
But the stakes were also high for No. 4-ranked Spain, as a loss would have forced them into an elimination game against Hungary on Sunday. In the end, the Spaniards came out on top 60-55.
Spain came out with a greater sense of desperation, racing out to an 11-0 start to set the tone. Canada was able to punch right back with a 12-0 run of their own, as Canada held Spain without a point for five consecutive minutes during their first-quarter run.
Spain managed to take back control as they jumped out to a 12-point lead mid-way through the second quarter thanks to contributions from Maria Conde and Megan Gustafson.
They led 36-25 after the half. Spain’s defensive pressure often extended the length of the court, and forced Canada into eight turnovers in the first half.
The third quarter was all Canada as they came out with a quick 9-0 run to cut the lead down to just two points.
Canada outscored Spain 23-9 in the quarter to take a three-point lead.
Bridget Carleton closed out the quarter with a huge block to give Canada an extra boost headed into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, it seemed as though Alexander was willing her team to Paris as the centre was grabbing rebounds, hitting jumpers, and finishing lay-ups inside.
For a moment, it looked like Canada had the game in their hands, but a 7-0 Spain run late in the fourth quarter shifted the result.
A three from Maite Cazorla and a jumper from Cristina Ouvina gave Spain a five-point lead with just 1:22 remaining. Canada could not get it back on the other end, as their offense generated no points in the final 4:44 of the game.
Alexander finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds on 8/11 shooting as she impacted the game on both the offensive and defensive side. She was the only Canadian in double figures.
Canada could have still clinched the Olympic berth on Friday if Japan had beaten Hungary in the other game. But the hosts, ranked 19th in the world, upset ninth-ranked Japan 81-75. With all four teams sitting on 1-1 records, Sunday’s two games will determine which three teams will book their tickets to Paris.
Canada beats Hungary in opener of Olympic Qualifier, moves closer to Paris 2024 berth
The only thing that would keep Canada’s women’s basketball team from competing at Paris 2024 is a last-place finish at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Sopron, Hungary.
That scenario appears much less likely thanks to a 67-55 win in the opener against host nation Hungary.
Canada did it with their defence on Thursday, holding Hungary to 33 per cent shooting from the field on 61 shots. The frontcourt of Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander made life in the paint difficult for Hungary and they couldn’t convert nearly enough perimeter shots to keep it close.
Canada’s frontcourt also provided the spark offensively in the opening quarter, as they opened up a double-digits lead thanks to eight points on 4/4 shooting from Achonwa and four points from Alexander.
Canada slowed offensively in the second and third quarters as Hungary stuck around with pesky defence to keep Canada’s lead within a few possessions.
Despite the struggles, they managed to close the third quarter on a 13-2 run to take control of the game as Bridget Carleton capped the quarter with Canada’s first three-pointer of the game.
Canada opened up the game in the fourth, pushing the lead to 21 points midway through the quarter. Despite a desperate comeback from Hungary, it was too late for the host nation as Canada came away with a 67-55 win.
Bridget Carleton was the high-scorer, scoring 18 points and hitting a pair of threes. Kayla Alexander finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Achonwa added 10 points and eight rebounds and was a team-high +18 in the win.
Hungary (No. 19) is the lowest-ranked team in the FIBA World Rankings in Group A, so Canada capitalized on their best opportunity to get a win in this tournament. The two remaining teams, No. 4 Spain, and No. 9 Japan, will likely pose a tougher challenge. But even if Canada loses their remaining two games they will still have the opportunity to clinch.
In Thursday’s other game, Japan took down Spain in an upset, 86-75. This means Canada’s women’s team now has the opportunity — just as the men’s team did — to clinch a spot at Paris 2024 with a win against Spain.
Tip-off from Sopron, Hungary will be at 9:30 a.m. EST on Friday.