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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Canada defeats Puerto Rico to go undefeated at FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament

Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team defeated Puerto Rico 77-68 on Sunday to close out the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament with an undefeated 3-0 record. 

“I’m excited that we came here and we did what we wanted to do,” Natalie Achonwa said. “We won three games, we qualified for the Olympic qualifiers, that was our main goal. Now we get to take some things that we learned in this tournament and apply it to the next round.”

Achonwa scored a team-high 16 points on 6-for-8 field goals to go with six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot in just 23 minutes. She was there whenever the team needed a basket or a stop, stepping in to take charges, knocking down open shots and finding her teammates for an easy bucket. 

Laeticia Amihere added 11 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, Syla Swords and Shay Colley scored 11 points apiece and Cassandre Prosper added eight points and six rebounds as Canada outrebounded Puerto rico 40-22, including 16-5 on the offensive glass.

Arella Guirates led all scorers with 22 points for Puerto Rico while Pamela Rosado added 12 points while making four three-pointers in the loss.

Canada shot 44 percent from the floor and never trailed after jumping out to a quick 12-0 lead to start the game. Puerto Rico didn’t score its first points of the game until the 4:52 mark of the quarter and Canada held an 18-12 advantage after the opening 10 minutes.

The Canadians opened the second quarter on an 18-2 run to take control. A layup from Quinn Dornstauder and a three for Syla Swords extended the advantage to 11 points with 8:32 remaining in the half. After a steal and score from Colley followed by a layup from Amihere, the lead was up to 20 points. Swords continued to connect from deep, making three three-pointers in the quarter. Tayra Melendez connected on a three from the corner for Puerto Rico as the halftime buzzer sounded, but Canada still led 43-25 at the break.

Achonwa assisted Nurse on a layup to open the third quarter, and then connected on a pair of free throws to extend Canada’s lead to 22 points with 9:16 remaining in the third as Puerto Rico began to connect from deep. After a pair of three-pointers from Rosado, Canada called timeout, their lead down to 13 with 7:27 remaining in the third. Out of the timeout, Colley assisted on back-to-back buckets from Amihere and then hit a corner three, but Puerto Rico scored the final five points of the quarter. Canada went into the fourth with a 65-52 advantage.

Sami Hill opened the fourth with a jumper before Puerto Rico responded with a bucket of their own. After Swords found Achonwa for a layup that extended the lead to 71-58, Puerto Rico called timeout with 6:01 remaining. Though Puerto Rico continued to push, they never got closer than seven points and Canada wrapped up the victory to cap off a perfect showing in Colombia.

Canada already booked their ticket to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February 2024 with Friday’s victory over Colombia, but wanted to finish the tournament strong against Puerto Rico.

“[The tournament was] good in terms of results, but we have to work a lot from now until February because of the level of the rivals in February,” Team Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña said. “I trust in my players. They know what they did good, what they did wrong and what they have to work on. I think [we will] calm down, get some rest and look forward to the future.”

Achonwa had her best game of the tournament on Sunday after returning to the court for the first time in Colombia since welcoming her son earlier this spring. Getting to accomplish the first goal on the path to qualifying for Paris 2024 has her already looking forward to what's next.

“I feel confident in the work that we do,” she said. “With Canada Basketball we’re really focused on how we can get better, how we can take things that we learned here and apply Canada Basketball’s principles to every game we play. I’m excited to see what our coach has in store for us and to compete at the highest level in Hungary for another chance at the Olympics.”