Canada basketball
Canada Basketball

Canada cruises past Korea 74-53 for first Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games victory

TOKYO, Japan (July 29, 2021) -- Canada's Senior Women’s National Team recorded a 74-53 victory against Korea in their second game at the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Basketball Olympic Competition on Thursday morning.

It was an extremely well-balanced victory for Canada who had three players in double figures and nine players on the scoreboard. Canada was led by a game-high 18-point performance from Bridget Carleton to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot, while three-time Olympian Natalie Achonwa finished with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double. Achonwa also added a team-high five assists to go with a block and a steal in 23 minutes of action.

“It was a great game,” Carleton said. “Obviously it was important for us to get that W. We treated it as a must-win and that’s what we were able to do with 40 minutes of good basketball, our style of basketball.”

As good as Carleton and Achonwa were on the offensive end of the floor, they were equally impressive defensively as Canada used a stifling defensive effort in the second half to pull away for the win.

“Natalie was fantastic,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “I thought again, just her poise and her basketball IQ and her toughness really shone through and was key for us.

“We certainly have a lot of respect for Korea, having played Spain so tightly a few days ago they had our attention,” Thomaidis said. “They’re such a quick, dynamic team, and [they] are a lot to defend [against]. I was really impressed with the effort our team put forth on the defensive end today.”

Kayla Alexander added 10 points, while Kia Nurse and Shay Colley contributed nine points apiece for Canada. Park Ji Su led Korea with 14 points in the loss.

“That was nice to see for sure,” Thomaidis said of the balanced scoresheet. “We do have a team that’s filled with talent and different people are going to have to step up on different occasions. We certainly have our vets who always put in a solid performance, and if we can get a couple extras from players off the bench, that’s really important in tournaments like this. I was really pleased. We’re definitely taking a step in the right direction, improving off of the other day.”

The win was a bounce-back victory for Canada, who fell to Serbia 72-68 in the team’s Olympic opener on Monday.

“We were building off the momentum we created in the second half of our game against Serbia,” Thomaidis said. “We wanted to bring that forward into today. Our goal is to play 40 minutes of Canada basketball and I thought we got closer to that today.”

Canada never trailed in Wednesday’s victory, though Korea kept it close through the first half. Thomaidis substituted early and often in the game, ensuring the five players on the floor were fresh and able to maintain Canada's defensive intensity. With Canada leading by five, Thomaidis subbed in Shaina Pellington, Laeticia Amihere and Aaliyah Edwards for the final 15.6 seconds in the half. The defensive move paid off. After knocking the ball out of bounds, a final attempt at the halftime buzzer was off the mark for Korea and Canada went into the half with a 33-28 lead.

It was Achonwa who scored first in the third, beginning a 6-0 run for Canada as the Canadians held Korea without a second-half field goal until the 5:10 mark in the quarter. A hook shot from Miranda Ayim gave Canada a nine-point advantage, 43-34 with 3:15 remaining. On the other end of the floor, Canada continued to pressure Korea defensively while also owning the boards.

Canada outrebounded Korea 54-32, including 22-9 on the offensive glass where they made the most of their extra opportunities, outscoring Korea 15-6 in second chance points and 40-30 in points in the paint.

“It was part of an emphasis that we had in our scouting report going into the game,” Achonwa said. “Making sure that we were executing, and the focus was putting the ball in the paint, throwing it into our fours and fives, getting post touches and working from there. I think our guards did a good job finding us, but also that our guards did a great job being big guards. Taking it to the rim, Bridget had a lot of and-1 takes, physical takes. I think that was the key of the game, the emphasis on how much bigger we are, how much stronger we are and I think we executed it today.”

After holding Korea to just 11 third-quarter points, Canada went into the fourth with a 10-point advantage, leading 49-39. Though Korea got within seven, 52-45, with 7:10 remaining, Canada closed the game on a 22-8 run to break the game open and go on to victory.

Up next for Canada in the group phase is a meeting with Spain on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET, streaming live and free on CBC Gem.

“I said the other day in our team meeting that any win in the Olympics is something to be celebrated so we’re going to take today and we’re going to relish the moment,” Achonwa said. “We will enjoy it today, and tomorrow when we start to prepare for Spain, it’s a whole different ball game.”