The Canadian women's basketball team will not control their own fate after losing their third and final group stage game 76-66 against a heavily-favoured Spanish side.
Canada fell behind quick, and was playing catch-up for the entire game. A poor third quarter put the game out of reach, but Canada refused to give up and cut the deficit down to six points on multiple occasions before Spain closed it out.
Canada finished 1-2 in the group stage, and will need a series of fortunate results from other remaining games to sneak into the quarterfinals as one of the better third-place teams. The silver lining working in Canada's favour is that they blew out South Korea in their lone win, which gives them a positive point differential of plus-6, which could be just enough to keep them in the hunt for a medal.
Outclassed in the middle
The one obvious weakness with Canada's roster heading into Tokyo 2020 was their lack of size in the middle. Natalie Achonwa was in a bulky brace having just recovered in time from an MCL sprain, Kayla Alexander is mostly a backup, and Laeticia Amihere is young and inexperienced. They were always going to struggle against centres with true size, which nearly cost them against South Korea, and it's the main reason why Spain beat them in the end.
Spainish centre Astou Ndour picked Canada's frontline apart, going for 20 points on an absurd 9-for-11 from the field. Canada was consistently a step slow in their rotations, and Spain's guards smartly directed their passes on the interior to the 6-foot-4 Ndour since she had the advantage in every matchup. Defensively, it was much of the same as Ndour camped out in the lane and largely rendered Canada's drives useless despite many stubborn attempts to challenge her at the basket.
Typically, to overcome a dominant paint presence, you would need to offset the difference from deep. However, after shooting 10-for-50 from three in their first two games, Canada was extremely modest with only 11 attempts against Spain, which simply wasn't enough. Spain eventually clued into Canada's hesitancy and started to collapse the paint on every drive, which only made it harder for them to score.
Change of pace
Canada's main advantage in their three games has been athleticism, and that's what gave them a chance in this one. In their first game, the Canadians forced 28 turnovers but just couldn't execute offensively. In the second, Canada scrapped on the glass and came down with 20 offensive rebounds. And in this game against Spain, the Canadians were able to climb back in the game thanks to all-out pressure from their younger players.
Amihere, Bridget Carleton and Shaina Pellington led the charge late in the third quarter and to start the fourth, trimming a 20-point lead down to six. Canada was abysmal to start the third frame, allowing a 9-0 run for Spain while being unable to generate anything on offence. That led coach Lisa Thomaidis into shifting into a strategy of all-out trapping, which got Spain out of their rhythm offensively, forced a handful of turnovers that got Canada back into the game.
Amihere and Pellington were especially effective in using their speed to attack. Pellington didn't have a single field goal, but she drew two fouls on Ndour by getting downhill with some speed and forcing the Spanish centre into contact at the basket. Amihere was also able to get a step on her defender for a few driving layups, in addition to making hustle plays in transition and on putbacks.
Still need more
One of the disappointing storylines to come out of the women's team is the performance of Kia Nurse, who has yet to show the star quality that she displayed in previous international runs. Nurse finished with 14 points, buts she was largely neutralized in a game where Canada badly needed help offensively. Nurse only took one shot in the first quarter, and while she made some momentum-shifting threes, she was hardly the consistent scoring threat that she is capable of. Without much scoring help behind her, Nurse's quiet offensive showings have led to muted attacks by Canada as a whole.
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