Canada granted key learning opportunity in AmeriCup win over Brazil

The Canadian women's basketball team vying for the ball against Brazil. (FIBA)

TORONTO – If the Canadian women’s national team are going to reach their ultimate goal of reaching the Olympic podium in Tokyo later this summer, they’re going to need more experience playing in games like the won they played Sunday.

Playing a tough Brazil team in the second game of their FIBA Women’s AmeriCup tournament, Canada pulled out a 71-67 victory in a spirited, competitive contest.

In a game that featured seven different lead changes, Canada saw a much stiffer test than the 60-point blowout it hung on the U.S. Virgin Islands on Saturday against Brazil Sunday, one that figures to help this Canadian team grow more.

“That was such a great game for us to challenge ourselves against a tough Brazil team,” said Team Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis after the game. “I thought they did a great job of taking us out of some of our things.

“So they really forced us to try to get to a Plan B and, you know, we’re not at a place where we’re seamless right now and where when they take away our first option we can get into our next one. So I thought we ground to a halt and, again, full credit to Brazil for that, so that’ll be really good for us. We’ll learn from this and take it forward. … So this is a great learning opportunity.”

With 6:13 left to play in the fourth quarter, Canadian Forward Kayla Alexander made a key layup to tie the game up after Canada had been trailing Brazil for that entire quarter. This led to a back-and-forth between Canada and Brazil exchanging baskets until Alexander drilled a jumper to put Canada up 66-64 with 4:01 left to play in the fourth, leading to a 7-3 Canadian run to close that game that saw Alexander score and assist on five of those seven points.

For the game, Alexander finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, and it was her and the hot hand of guard Nirra Fields, who finished with a team-high 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, that helped calm down a young, sometimes jittery Canadian team during key moments of the game when it looked like Brazil might break away.

“I think it was incredibly important and I’m thankful that we had this experience because it showed us areas we need to improve upon and it was a challenge,” said Alexander of the test she and her teammates undertook against Brazil Sunday. “But challenges are fun, I feel like basketball is more exciting when you’re being challenged and you’re afforded to find new ways to create, make things happen. I think that’s the part of the excitement of basketball.”

And as exciting as it may be to learn and grow, it’s also vital for this team.

Unlike many of their competitors that they’ll see in Tokyo, Canada hasn’t had the luxury of even scrimmaging much with each other, let alone playing against other teams before this recent period at training camp and the AmeriCup itself.

So every possession in each of these games is of great importance for a Canadian squad with high expectations for themselves as it provides valuable insight into what may or may not work in time for the Olympics.

And, hey, if you’re winning while you’re learning, too, that’s just gravy.

“We really had to buckle down in today’s game to get this one in the win column and that was great to see,” said Thomaidis. “We held our composure, we made shots when we needed to, we got stops when we needed to. These are the ones we love to be in before we move on. These are the ones we learn the most from.”

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