Canadian women's basketball team qualifies for Paris Olympics
SOPRON, Hungary — It wasn't pretty, nor easy, but Canada's women's basketball is going to Paris for the upcoming Olympic Games.
Bridget Carleton led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds but Canada fell to 1-2 dropping a pivotal game against Japan, 86-82, on Sunday in FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament action. Canada could have advanced with a win, after losing to fourth-ranked Spain on Friday and opening the competition with a win over host Hungary on Thursday.
However, with three teams qualifying for the Olympics from the four-team tournament, Canada was able to make it through thanks to Spain's 73-72 dramatic comeback win over 19th-ranked Hungary later Sunday. Spain had already qualified courtesy of Japan's win.
“It is a complete rollercoaster when your fate is in someone else’s hands,” said Canada forward Natalie Achonwa, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in Sunday's loss.
“But it was so exciting when we got to celebrate the moment together knowing that our dreams and our goals survive another day and that we get to represent Canada in Paris 2024."
It will be Canada’s fourth consecutive Olympic appearance and the first time since 2000 that both the women’s and men’s teams have qualified for the Games.
Kayla Alexander chipped in 16 points and 14 rebounds for fifth-ranked Canada, with Nirra Fields contributing 17 points and seven rebounds of her own.
Evelyn Mawuli and Mai Yamamoto, who was named tournament MVP, led ninth-ranked Japan with 21 points apiece. Japan is the reigning Olympic silver medallist.
“First of all, congratulations to Japan,” Canada head coach Víctor Lapena said. “They’re a great team. They played amazing today again, finding solutions.
"We knew we needed 80 points to win this kind of game against Japan because they score very easily, from different positions. Special congratulations to Evelyn Mawuli today, I think she was the difference, the great difference today in this game.”
The tournament was one of four qualifying competitions being played for the final 10 Olympic spots. The U.S. and France had already made it in prior to these tournaments.
Canada played Japan close for much of the game. The game consisted of 12 lead changes with Canada being up by as many as two points, and Japan nine.
The game was tied 20-20 after the first quarter, with Japan taking a 50-46 lead at half. Japan held a 70-67 edge through three.
Down 75-69 with 8:17 remaining in the fourth, Canada went on a 10-4 run to tie the game with 4:36 on the clock thanks to a Fields layup.
Japan followed that up, however, with a 6-1 run capped by a Yamamoto layup with 41 seconds remaining to seal it.
“Japan’s a really good team,” Carleton said. “We had a tough group. We lost two tough games to two really good teams. We fought hard, we scored a lot of points, but Japan’s really good.
"They’re hard to guard, they’re quick, they shoot threes really well.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2024.