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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Resilient Canadians trounce Hungary to open Olympic Qualifying tournament

The Canadian Senior Women’s National Team opened play at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a 67-55 victory over host team Hungary on Thursday at Arena Sopron in Hungary.

Bridget Carleton led all scorers with 18 points, Kayla Alexander had a 15-point, 13-rebound double-double and Natalie Achonwa added 10 points in the victory.

Dorka Juhász led Hungary with 13 points in the loss.

“I thought it was a really hard-fought game,” Alexander said. “Hungary battled us until the very end. For our team, I’m proud of how we competed. I thought we did a good job of going to the boards and getting ourselves second opportunities. It was also nice to finally get all of us back on the court together and play together as a team."

Despite Hungary's size on the inside, Canada owned the glass. They outrebounded Hungary 50-32, including 17-10 on the offensive glass.

“Giving so many offensive rebounds to Canada, they were great on the boards,” Juhasz said. “They played very great, aggressive defence on us. Canada has an amazing team, great veteran leaders.”

Canada never trailed, jumping out to a 25-11 lead after the opening 10 minutes, behind a strong start from Alexander and Achonwa who scored eight points apiece in the first quarter. The Canadians shot 53 per cent in the first quarter, holding Hungary to just 21 per cent shooting as they built their lead.

Hungary opened the second quarter on an 11-2 run until a bucket inside from Alexander got Canada back on track. The Canadians dialled up their defensive intensity and were extremely active on the perimeter, forcing Hungary into turnovers and making the most of their extra possessions.

A steal from Carleton led to a jumper at the free-throw line to make it 31-24 Canada midway through the quarter. Another steal from Carleton ended with a pair of free throws to put Canada up by nine. After an offensive putback, also from Carleton, Canada led by 11. A steal and reverse layup from Syla Swords and then a layup from Alexander kept Canada's advantage at 11, 41-30, at the half.

“I’m happy to see how the team played together,” Team Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña said. “We have some of our players in Europe, Spain, France. Four or five [of our] players, they are not playing [in this tournament]… Unfortunately we got Kia Nurse injured in the first game which was a great impact for us. But the mentality, the physicality of the game, how we put the level at the highest competition, how my players showed we are very strong mentally is the most important for me.”

After Hungary cut Canada’s lead to five points midway through the third quarter, Lapeña called a timeout to talk things over with his team. Out of the timeout, Canada reeled off 10 straight points to rebuild a 16-point lead heading into the final frame.

"Based on this game, I saw some things that we can continue to work on moving forward, but it’s just really nice to be back out there with my teammates and start the tournament off with a win,” Alexander said.

After a three from Colley extended the advantage to 21 points with 2:15 remaining, Hungary made a late push, scoring seven straight points until Alexander made a pair of free throws with 57 seconds remaining to keep Canada in front by 16 points.

“I think we dominated the game, we had control of the game,” Lapeña said. “The last two minutes, they were very tired, but it comes from a great effort. I’m very, very happy with the team's performance. In terms of effort, in terms of intensity and how the team played together.”

The Canadians will now take on No. 4 ranked Spain on Friday, Feb. 9 at 9:30 a.m. ET/6:30 a.m. PT. Fans in Canada can catch all of the action live on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+. With a victory, Canada would qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.