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Canadian women top host Hungary in FIBA Olympic qualifier

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SOPRON, Hungary — Kayla Alexander led the way with 15 points and 13 rebounds as Canada defeated host Hungary 67-55 Thursday to open a FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Bridget Carleton added a game-high 18 points for the fifth-ranked Canadians. Natalie Achonwa and Shay Colley chipped in 10 points apiece.

“I’m happy to see how the team played together,” Canada head coach Víctor Lapena said. “We have some of our players in Europe, Spain, France.

"Four or five (of our) players, they are not playing (in this tournament) … 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.”

The competition is one of four Olympic qualifying tournaments with 10 of the 12 spots for the 2024 Paris Games on the line. The U.S. and France are the lone teams to have already qualified.

Spain and Japan are the other two countries in the four-team tournament along with Canada and Hungary. The top three teams from the tournament will qualify for the Olympics.

Canada next faces the fourth-ranked Spaniards on Friday. Spain is 0-1 to start the tournament after falling 86-75 to ninth-ranked Japan on Thursday.

Dorka Juhasz led 19th-ranked Hungary with 13 points. The hosts never led once and were outrebounded 50-32, giving up 17 offensive rebounds.

“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.”

The Canadians jumped out quickly against Hungary, with an 8-2 run capped by an Achonwa layup 4:05 into the contest. Just under three minutes later, Achonwa gave Canada its first double digit-lead, 15-5, with another layup.

Hungary fought back early in the second quarter, trimming the deficit to just five, 27-22, with Reka Dombai's three-pointer just 2:34 into the frame. Shortly after, Carleton scored six points in a 8-0 Canada run that provided some air space and later head into halftime up 41-30.

The Hungarians again cut it down to five, 42-37, by 6:38 of the third frame with a Debora Dubei layup. However, that prompted a 13-2 run capped by a Carleton three-pointer that helped Canada to 55-39 edge going into the fourth.

Canada kept Hungary at bay in the final quarter, with the hosts getting no closer than within 14 points. A Colley three-pointer with 2:15 remaining gave Canada its largest lead of 21 points, 65-44.

“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. That was fun and enjoyable."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.