Kia Keys Canada to Gold
TORONTO – Canada rode the historic effort of Kia Nurse to Pan Am Games gold with 33 points.
With gold on the line and the game close, a more experienced Canadian squad held off a tough young American team to win 81-73.
It’s just the second time in international competition that Canada’s women have won basketball gold, both times on home soil. The last time was the 1995 FIBA Americas Championship in Hamilton, where Kia Nurse was born just months later.
“Kia Nurse has the heart of a Champion,” said Canadian head coach Lisa Thomaidis after the game. “Phenomenal, what can I say she was just tremendous. The biggest games she’s always the one rising to the occasion. There’s very few players who can do that and do it at the level she did today.”
Nurse was demonstrative in her energy and every basket showed her excitement. She would not let Canada lose.
In the first quarter, Canada’s victory was definitely in question as they trailed 23-13 through the first 10 minutes. Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson, teammates of Nurse at UCONN, led the way for the American side making this a Huskies showcase.
As the nerves in front of the raucous home crowd subsided Canada’s experience came into play. Veterans Kim Gaucher and Tamara Tatham took turns trying to slow Stewart and succeeded limiting her to 17, while nobody could stop Nurse.
“I was just hoping to get the momentum switched,” said Nurse. “It was just a matter of staying within what I do well and my teammates did a really good job.”
Canada also forced the American shooters into tough looks while they continued to pass the ball around registering 14 assists to just five for USA. FULL STATS HERE.
With the game tied at half it was Natalie Achonwa scored seven of her 13 points in the third quarter to key an advantage that Canada would never relinquish.
Fans at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre hung on every basket, cheering their hearts out for their team. It’s a moment members of the team hope leaves an impression on young girls (and boys) who are the future of the Canada Basketball.
“I think any time you get the opportunity to play at home in a meaningful game at an event like this you can’t do anything but help the exposure of our team and our program and our players,” said Thomaidis.
“Hopefully Canada got to see what we’re all about with the type of character and the athletes that we do have that represent Canada and give so much for their country.”
If Canadians had been watching it must have been through the live stream online. It was broadcast on ESPN U in the States, but not televised in Canada. Basketball is growing in Canada and wins like these will help elevate the sport nationally.
It was a proud moment when the undefeated women donned Pan Am gold for the first time in Canada Basketball history, as the flag was raised and the building echoed with the national anthem.
“Did you guys hear us?” asked Shona Thorburn after the game. “We were so loud. We belted that with pride and emotion. Hard work paid off tonight.”
Canada’s women still have work to do hosting the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier Aug 8-16 in Edmonton, and Thomaidis believes the team could be even better by then.
That would be scary for the rest of the Americas, since they’re likely now the favourites to win.
Not bad for a team just getting used to the spotlight.