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Holly MacKenzie

Canada dominates in 81-39 victory over Venezuela to open FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament

Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team opened play at the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament 2023 in Colombia with a dominant 81-39 victory over Venezuela on Thursday. 

Laeticia Amihere had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double to go along with two blocked shots, while Bridget Carleton, Kia Nurse and Cassandre Prosper scored 10 points apiece to lead a Canada team that saw all 12 players on the roster play in the victory. Sami Hill added nine points, shooting 3-for-5 from beyond the arc to go with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 18 minutes off the bench.

“For me it was important today that the team competed like a Canada team,” Team Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña said.

“[Like] a Canada team in the past, a Canada team in the AmeriCup, so I’m very happy, first of all, because Natalie Achonwa came back to the team today. We could play with Kia, Bridget, with Laeticia Amihere, with those who didn’t play in the AmeriCup, and the chemistry was good. We needed some minutes to address the team and get the feeling, and then everything was more fluent, we scored our threes, the team kept defending super aggressive.”

Canada never trailed in the game, taking its first double-digit lead, 15-4, on a pair of free throws from Kayla Alexander with 4:59 remaining in the opening quarter. They led 23-8 after the opening 10 minutes.

Both teams struggled to start the second as Canada didn’t score its first point until the 4:48 mark of the quarter, but Venezuela was unable to take advantage, scoring just three points during Canada’s scoring drought. After snapping the scoreless stretch, Canada quickly found a rhythm again and continued to stretch the lead.

Buckets from Alexander and Carleton extended Canada’s lead to 19 points, 32-13, with three minutes remaining in the half. Canada closed the half strong as Shay Colley stole the ball and took it all the way, scoring while being fouled. She converted the three-point play to give Canada a 37-13 advantage. After Daniela Wallen scored for Venezuela, Syla Swords hit a long two for Canada and Nirra Fields connected on a three-pointer to give Canada a 42-15 lead at the break.

Canada shot 39 percent in the first half compared to just 20 percent shooting for Venezuela. Despite the slow start in the second quarter, Canada still won the quarter 19-7 and were in complete control heading into the second half.

Things continued to roll for Canada in the third. After a three from Venezuela’s Barbara Pico, Sami Hill responded with a three of her own for Canada, keeping the advantage at 29, 49-20. Hill was sensational in the quarter and her fingerprints were all over Canada’s offensive success. A three from Carleton, assisted by Hill, gave Canada its first 30-point lead of the game at 52-22 with 4:19 remaining in the third. A minute later, it was Carleton assisting Hill on a three, extending the lead to 33 points.

“It’s fun being back playing with this group of women, it’s been awhile,” Carleton said. “Sami and I have a good chemistry, we’re really best friends off the court. It’s nice to get to play with her. Her energy, she brings so much to the team on the defensive end, so it was nice to see her knock down some threes on offence. We know each other so well off the court and on the court, so it's easy to play with someone like that.”

A steal from Hill led to a layup from Aslinn Konig and then it was Laeticia Amihere scoring inside before Hill connected on her second three of the quarter. After a block, also from Hill, Amihere scored inside again, giving Canada 15 straight points until a three-pointer from Venezuela’s Ivaney Marquez to close the quarter.

“[Sami] is one of the players who knows what I want from her and knows what her role is,” Lapeña said. “She tries, always, to execute her role as best as possible. Congratulations, Sami because she’s doing an amazing job and if she continues this way and if we get to play for the Olympics, she will be there.”

Canada went into the fourth with a 64-25 lead and went on to victory easily from there. The team’s two youngest players opened and closed the quarter as Prosper opened the fourth with a three pointer and Swords made a free throw to cap an 80-39 victory.

Equally important as the victory was the return of Team Captain Natalie Achonwa to the court for the first time since welcoming her son this past spring. Achonwa logged 20 minutes in her first game back, grabbing six rebounds to go with an assist, a steal and a blocked shot.

“Natalie is important, not just on the court, off the court, for the chemistry of the team,” Lapeña said. “I think now, in her new situation as a mom, she will bring to the team more experience, more wisdom. I’m very happy having Natalie again. It’s very special for me. She helped me a lot in my first experience with Canada in Osaka, and then in the World Cup. She's our captain. I’m very happy.”

Canada will now face host Colombia on Friday, Nov. 10 at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT. Fans can catch all of the action streaming live on FIBA’s YouTube Channel.