Double-double from Milton basketball star not enough vs Japan but Canada still qualifies for Paris


Published February 12, 2024 at 12:23 am

Milton's Kayla Alexander in action against Spain in the FIBA Olympic Basketball qualifying tournament

They needed help to get there but the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team is going to Paris – their fourth consecutive time qualifying for the Olympics and the first time since 2000 that both the women’s and men’s teams have made it to the quadrennial event.

Though Canada dropped an 86-82 decision to Japan in their final game at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Sunday, a 73-72 victory by Spain against Hungary meant Canada has advanced to the 2024 Olympic Games.

Team Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña said he was proud of his team, despite the loss to Japan in a game that would have automatically qualified the squad.

“I think these guys deserve to be in Paris 2024.”

Waiting for someone else to open the door to qualifying was difficult but Spain’s 22-point comeback victory against host Hungary was enough to book Canada’s trip to Paris.

“It is a complete rollercoaster when your fate is in someone else’s hands,” Canadian forward Natalie Achonwa said. “But it was so exciting when we got to celebrate the moment together knowing that our dreams and our goals survive another day and that we get to represent Canada in Paris 2024.”

Despite a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double from Milton’s Kayla Alexander, 19 points from Bridget Carleton and 17 points from Nirra Fields, Canada couldn’t slow Japan down the stretch in Sunday’s loss.

“I’m really proud of our team for fighting today,” Achonwa said. “A couple of buckets go another way, a couple of foul calls go another way and it’s a different game.”

In such a close game, seven missed free throws and 15 turnovers from Canada loomed large. Japan shot 19-for-21 from the line and had just four turnovers in the game as Mai Yamamoto and Evelyn Mawuli scored 21 points apiece in the win.

After qualifying for Paris in dramatic fashion, Canada doesn’t intend to leave anything else to chance.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” Achonwa said. “We had an opportunity to control our destiny and we came up short. Thankfully, it still turned around in our favour and we’re still going to be in Paris and we will not take this chance lightly.

“We will prepare. We will work. We will once again dive into the commitment that it is to represent Canada. I am so thrilled to have the opportunity, once again, to wear the Canada jersey across my chest.”

Half of Canada’s roster hails from the GTA, including Alexander (Milton), Kia Nurse (Hamilton), Shaina Pellington (Pickering), Laticia Amihere (Mississauga) and Sami Hill and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe of Toronto.

With files from Holly Mackenzie, Canada Basketball

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