Natalie Achonwa scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Canadians to an 80-50 rout of Sweden on Saturday, clinching Canada its third consecutive Olympic berth. Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece. (The Canadian Press photo)

Natalie Achonwa scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Canadians to an 80-50 rout of Sweden on Saturday, clinching Canada its third consecutive Olympic berth. Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece. (The Canadian Press photo)

Canadian women’s basketball team punches its Olympic ticket with win over Sweden

Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece

Canada’s women’s basketball team celebrated at centre court holding aloft a giant ticket that read: “Qualified.”

Natalie Achonwa scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Canadians to an 80-50 rout of Sweden on Saturday, clinching Canada its third consecutive Olympic berth.

“For the team to qualify with a 30-point victory is pretty special. I think it really speaks to how far this team has come,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis.

Shaina Pellington added 11 points, while Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim chipped in with 10 apiece.

After edging Belgium 61-56 on Thursday, Canada needed only to finish ahead of Belgium or Sweden in the four-team qualifying tournament to punch its ticket to Tokyo.

The thumping of Sweden was a massive punctuation mark on FIBA’s new three-tournament qualifying format. Canada’s top women had travelled from numerous points abroad over the past six months — including as far away as Australia — to don the Maple Leaf. As a result, Canada lost just once — to the top-ranked Americans — over its 12 qualifying games.

If the team’s excitement was measured on Saturday, it’s because Canada’s job isn’t done. Ranked an all-time best No. 4 in the world, the Canadians have their sights set on the Olympic podium in Tokyo, after being ousted in the quarterfinals in both 2012 and ‘16.

“Having some expectations of being there tempers a little bit of the excitement right now, when we think back to 2012, we were losing our minds (with excitement after qualifying),” Thomaidis said. “But I think there’s high expectations on this team and this group, so it does temper it. But I can tell ya we’re a pretty excited group right now, I think it hasn’t really sunk in quite yet.”

The basketball women are the eighth Canadian team to qualify for Tokyo, joining the women’s soccer, rugby sevens, softball and water polo squads and the men’s field hockey, rugby sevens and volleyball teams. Canada’s women’s soccer team clinched its berth a day earlier with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Canada’s previous high at a non-boycotted Games was five teams — excluding the 1976 Olympics in Montreal when the country sent nine teams as host.

Achonwa, Kim Gaucher and Miranda Ayim will all make their third Olympic appearance in Tokyo.

“It hasn’t really set in yet but listening to (Thomaidis) talk about it being my, Kim and Miranda’s third Olympics kind of made me emotional,” Achonwa said. “Knowing that the injuries, the fight, not only just me but what our entire team has been through to get to this point. I don’t think we take it lightly. It’s an honour to be able to represent Canada every time we put a jersey on. But to be able to do that at an Olympic Games, and to qualify for another Olympic Games … definitely do not take it lightly.”

Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in her senior season at Notre Dame but went on to play for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, paid tribute to all the Canadian women who’d blazed a trail before her.

“That’s why we come every summer. That’s why we commit to Canada Basketball, because we know that it’s bigger than the individual. We know that it’s bigger than just me. It’s bigger than any player who’s had the chance to put on the jersey right now,” she said. “It’s the years we didn’t qualify for the Olympics. It’s the people, the vets who paved the way for us to have this opportunity.”

The Canadians got off to a shaky start against the 22nd-ranked Swedes. They gave up 12 turnovers in the first half, and trailed by five points after an 8-0 Swedish run to start the second quarter.

But Canada responded and a lay-up by Kayla Alexander, who returned for this tournament after being sidelined for four months with a knee injury, sent Canada into the halftime break with a 37-31 lead.

The Canadians broke the game open with a dominant third quarter and when Ayim connected on a jump shot with 12 seconds left in the frame, Canada went up 59-41 to start the fourth.

“Definitely had its ups and downs, but I think the energy we came out with in the second half really set us apart,” Achonwa said. “I think we always are focused, I remember Miranda coming in the huddle saying we need to win these first three minutes (of the second half) and we did that by getting stops and staying aggressive on offence.”

Canada went ahead by as many as 32 points in the game’s dying seconds.

The Canadians play Japan on Sunday in a game that means little more now than preparation for the Olympics.

“It’s a start to Tokyo now,” Achonwa said. “It’s an opportunity that we don’t get all the time to play a different style of basketball, so I think our mentality is the same, we came in wanting to win every game in this tournament, and we will keep that mentality going forward. It’s a great prep game, and Japan’s looking at it the same way, so I think it’s going to be a competitive game and a game that we would love to use to prepare for Tokyo.”

The Canadian men’s team needs to win its last-chance tournament in late-June in Victoria, B.C., to book its first Olympic berth since the 2000 Sydney Games.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

basketball

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

An Oak Bay municipal crew finishes off a job by laying hot asphalt in place on Dalhousie Street. The District of Oak Bay is in the process of completing a number of underground infrastructure projects, part of its long term asset renewal plan for the municipality. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Oak Bay’s Uplands sewer, storm line separation project awaits funding

Federal/provincial infrastructure grant announcement expected next spring

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read