Natalie Achonwa scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Canadians to an 80-50 rout of Sweden on Saturday, clinching Canada its third consecutive Olympic berth. Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece. (The Canadian Press photo)

Canadian women’s basketball team punches its Olympic ticket with win over Sweden

Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece

Canada’s women’s basketball team celebrated at centre court holding aloft a giant ticket that read: “Qualified.”

Natalie Achonwa scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Canadians to an 80-50 rout of Sweden on Saturday, clinching Canada its third consecutive Olympic berth.

“For the team to qualify with a 30-point victory is pretty special. I think it really speaks to how far this team has come,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis.

Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece.

After edging Belgium 61-56 on Thursday, Canada needed only to finish ahead of Belgium or Sweden in the four-team qualifying tournament to punch its ticket to Tokyo.

The thumping of Sweden was a massive punctuation mark on FIBA’s new three-tournament qualifying format. Canada’s top women had travelled from numerous points abroad over the past six months — including as far away as Australia — to don the Maple Leaf. As a result, Canada lost just once — to the top-ranked Americans — over its 12 qualifying games.

If the team’s excitement was measured on Saturday, it’s because Canada’s job isn’t done. Ranked an all-time best No. 4 in the world, the Canadians have their sights set on the Olympic podium in Tokyo, after being ousted in the quarterfinals in both 2012 and ‘16.

“Having some expectations of being there tempers a little bit of the excitement right now, when we think back to 2012, we were losing our minds (with excitement after qualifying),” Thomaidis said. “But I think there’s high expectations on this team and this group, so it does temper it. But I can tell ya we’re a pretty excited group right now, I think it hasn’t really sunk in quite yet.”

The basketball women are the eighth Canadian team to qualify for Tokyo, joining the women’s soccer, rugby sevens, softball and water polo squads and the men’s field hockey, rugby sevens and volleyball teams. Canada’s women’s soccer team clinched its berth a day earlier with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Canada’s previous high at a non-boycotted Games was five teams — excluding the 1976 Olympics in Montreal when the country sent nine teams as host.

Achonwa, Kim Gaucher and Miranda Ayim will all make their third Olympic appearance in Tokyo.

“It hasn’t really set in yet but listening to (Thomaidis) talk about it being my, Kim and Miranda’s third Olympics kind of made me emotional,” Achonwa said. “Knowing that the injuries, the fight, not only just me but what our entire team has been through to get to this point. I don’t think we take it lightly. It’s an honour to be able to represent Canada every time we put a jersey on. But to be able to do that at an Olympic Games, and to qualify for another Olympic Games … definitely do not take it lightly.”

Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in her senior season at Notre Dame but went on to play for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, paid tribute to all the Canadian women who’d blazed a trail before her.

“That’s why we come every summer. That’s why we commit to Canada Basketball, because we know that it’s bigger than the individual. We know that it’s bigger than just me. It’s bigger than any player who’s had the chance to put on the jersey right now,” she said. “It’s the years we didn’t qualify for the Olympics. It’s the people, the vets who paved the way for us to have this opportunity.”

The Canadians got off to a shaky start against the 22nd-ranked Swedes. They gave up 12 turnovers in the first half, and trailed by five points after an 8-0 Swedish run to start the second quarter.

But Canada responded and a lay-up by Kayla Alexander, who returned for this tournament after being sidelined for four months with a knee injury, sent Canada into the halftime break with a 37-31 lead.

The Canadians broke the game open with a dominant third quarter and when Ayim connected on a jump shot with 12 seconds left in the frame, Canada went up 59-41 to start the fourth.

“Definitely had its ups and downs, but I think the energy we came out with in the second half really set us apart,” Achonwa said. “I think we always are focused, I remember Miranda coming in the huddle saying we need to win these first three minutes (of the second half) and we did that by getting stops and staying aggressive on offence.”

Canada went ahead by as many as 32 points in the game’s dying seconds.

The Canadians play Japan on Sunday in a game that means little more now than preparation for the Olympics.

“It’s a start to Tokyo now,” Achonwa said. “It’s an opportunity that we don’t get all the time to play a different style of basketball, so I think our mentality is the same, we came in wanting to win every game in this tournament, and we will keep that mentality going forward. It’s a great prep game, and Japan’s looking at it the same way, so I think it’s going to be a competitive game and a game that we would love to use to prepare for Tokyo.”

The Canadian men’s team needs to win its last-chance tournament in late-June in Victoria, B.C., to book its first Olympic berth since the 2000 Sydney Games.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

basketball

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It happened in 1913

Sept. 20 - 26: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

A Winter’s Tale: Live theatre returns to Cranbrook with “Almost, Maine”

Cranbrook Community Theatre presentation, opening Friday, shows us how we leave each other, and how we make our way back

MP Morrison faults federal Throne Speech as new Parliament session begins

Kootenay-Columbia representative criticizes a lack of focus on jobs, support for resource sector

City grants permissive tax exemption for indoor facility

Cranbrook city council voted in favour of granting a permissive tax exemption… Continue reading

Ringing in a new season of Hugs and Slugs

Hugs: To our local photographers! I have had a bird coming to… Continue reading

B.C.’s top doctor thanks supporters after revealing threats over COVID-19 measures

Dr. Bonnie Henry says COVID-19 has caused some people to lash out in anger and frustration out of fear

NDP, Greens divided on pace of child care improvements in B.C. election campaign

NDP Leader John Horgan recommitted to $10-a-day child care and blamed the Greens for not supporting his efforts

Category 2 open burning prohibitions rescinded throughout Southeast Fire Centre

Category 3 open fires, as defined in the Wildfire Regulation, remain prohibited

BC Liberal Leader talks drug addiction in the Lower Mainland

Drug addiction and public safety a top priority says Andrew Wilkinson

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Pandemic derails CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific will work to get donations to food banks while also producing an online music concert

Interior Health reports five new COVID-19 cases

Across the region, 34 cases are active

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Most Read