MEDELLÌN, Colombia (Nov. 10, 2023) - Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team is headed to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The Canadians booked their ticket to the February 2024 event after earning a 70-53 victory against host team Colombia at the FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Medellín, Colombia on Friday.
Kayla Alexander had a 20-point, 14-rebound double-double to go with three steals and two blocked shots to lead the way.
“I have to say, [Kayla was] the key of the game,” Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña said. “The key was, all the time, to punish them on offence and protect the rim on defence. She did a great job, especially because she guarded #6 [Yuliany Paz], and it’s very difficult to defend her. On offence, it was playing from post up, reading the situation, diving from the free throw line. Especially when we didn’t score, she got offensive rebounds. She’s one of our captains, one of our leaders. She was fantastic.”
Bridget Carleton had a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double and Natalie Achonwa added six points, eight rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot as Canada outrebounded Colombia 50-37 in the win.
Playing in front of a supportive and loud Colombian home crowd, the host team jumped out to an early lead to start the game before Canada scored 11 straight points to take a 17-13 lead after the opening 10 minutes.
“It was fun,” Alexander said of the atmosphere. “You love playing in front of a good crowd. Especially when it's an away crowd screaming against you, that brings the joy. That's basketball. It was nice to play in that environment. I’m proud of us because they were relentless. Colombia, they fought till the very end.”
Canada led throughout the second quarter, taking their first double-digit lead on a pair of free throws from Carleton with 2:50 remaining in the half. With Canada on the verge of breaking the game open, Colombia closed the half on a 10-2 run, fuelled by a three-point play from Manuela Rios, another layup from Rios and then a difficult three from Esperanza Delgado to bring Colombia within three as Canada took a 34-31 advantage into the break.
Carleton opened the second half with a jumper, and then the quarter belonged to Alexander who scored 12 of her 20 points in the third. A hook shot from Alexander followed by a bucket from Shay Colley extended Canada’s lead to seven points. When Colombia got within three points after a bucket from Jenifer Muñoz, Alexander sank another hook shot to keep Canada in front by five with 4:50 remaining in the third.
“I got some good feedback [from assistant coach] Murriel [Page] about some stuff that I wasn't doing [in the first half], adjusted, my teammates found me in a good position and I just let the game come to me,” Alexander said. “As a team, in the second half, we picked it up on defence, made some adjustments on the defensive end to try to eliminate their downhill drives and we tried to box them out some more.”
Another bucket from Alexander extended the lead to seven and then Cassandre Prosper scored to put Canada back up by nine. Prosper then assisted on an Alexander layup to give Canada the 48-37 lead with 1:27 remaining in the third as Colombia called timeout. There was no slowing Alexander, however, as she hit another shot out of the timeout and then scored again with two seconds remaining in the quarter to give Canada a 52-39 heading into the fourth.
Canada maintained their lead through the fourth, stretching the lead to 17 points, their largest of the game, on a three-pointer from Carleton with 31 seconds remaining.
Friday’s victory earned Canada their trip to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February.
“I’m really excited and super proud of our team,” Alexander said. “We got the job done. We’re not finished, but we got the job done. We’re looking forward to February. There’s still a lot of work for us to do but we’re taking advantage of this time together, to continue to build our chemistry to be at our best in February.”
Up next, Canada will face Puerto Rico on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 4:00 p.m. ET/1:00 p.m. ET. Though they’ve accomplished their first goal in their quest to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, both players and coach stress this is just the first step.
“What we have to do now is think that the next game against Puerto Rico is very important for us to keep building the team,” Lapeña said. “It’s not done for me. We have to see tomorrow, we have to keep growing, keep doing things better and looking for February. We need to enjoy this moment and then we’ll reflect on what we need to do for February.”
Fans can catch all of the action streaming live on FIBA’s YouTube Channel.