In June of 2021, Canada suffered a loss in the semifinal of the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup as they fell to host nation Puerto Rico, who made history with their highest finish ever in the competition.
Puerto Rico was making history once again as they made the quarterfinals of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the first time, but this time they wouldn’t be so lucky to take down Canada again.
The difference between the two competitions Thursday was Natalie Achonwa, Bridget Carleton and Kia Nurse were all present for the World Cup, having to miss out on the AmeriCup due to their WNBA commitments.
With the three veterans present for Canada, the team showed off their depth as they coasted to a 19-point win over Puerto Rico, 79-60, sustaining a double-digit lead by playing smothering defence that kept Puerto Rico at bay even when Arella Guirantes went off for a game-leading 19 points.
Canada must now face off against a dominant USA team in the semifinals, having the chance to play for a medal at the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Here are a few takeaways from Canada’s statement win over Puerto Rico in the quarterfinal of the Women’s World Cup.
Comeback Kia in full force
After suffering a torn ACL in the WNBA semifinals in 2021, Kia Nurse made her return to the court in her national team jersey and couldn’t have been a more instrumental piece in the win over Puerto Rico.
Nurse has been gradually getting better every game and continues to carry a decent size of Canada’s offensive load, but the sharp-shooting specialist scored four baskets from deep for 12 of her 17 points in the win and led Canada in scoring.
Puerto Rico had no answer for the Canadian guard, allowing her to shoot 4-of-7 from long, accounting for half of Canada’s eight made three-pointers as they shot 38 per cent from beyond the arc.
The most impressive of all is Nurse does it all while on a minutes restriction due to her plan to not aggravate her knee injury as she returns to basketball — the 24 minutes she played against Puerto Rico were the longest she has been on the court all competition, and she’s still averaging 10.3 points per game in 20.1 minutes.
“It’s been a really long road,” Nurse said. “When you’re a professional athlete, sometimes there’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of love/hate for the game. Right now it’s just fun. Everything about basketball right now is really fun and that’s the joy you have when you’re like four or five, just starting to play the game.
“Just really excited to be out here. And this makes it even more special.”
Nurse has scored in double digits in Canada’s last three games and has also been a force crashing the boards to help Canada lead in rebounding, supporting the team defensively and forcing turnovers while causing zero turnovers herself in the quarterfinal win.
Shooting 42 per cent from the floor, Nurse has increased her scoring every game since the start of the competition, and as Canada looks to upset a well-rounded and talented USA team, Nurse will be a key part of the plan with her ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
Bench depth continues to be key
Five players finished with 11 or more points for Canada in their win over Puerto Rico, and even those who didn’t get into high-scoring rhythms like Kayla Alexander still dominated on the boards with 13 rebounds.
Although Nurse led the team in scoring Carleton was right behind with 15 points of her own. While she shot just 40 per cent from the floor, Carleton scored six points from the foul line alone to keep Canada poised when Puerto Rico fouled.
Achonwa added a near double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds, Laeticia Amihere scored 12 points of her own and Shay Colley had 11 points and six assists in the win, proving that Canada has weapons at every position on both sides of the ball.
Even Nirra Fields, who had a quiet night with just six points while both came from deep, was still felt on all ends of the court with four rebounds, three assists and a steal as she played hard defensively and contributed in any area Canada needed her to be.
With a tough game against a dynasty in the USA coming up, the team knows that this sort of well-rounded performance is a must to be able to knock off the basketball giants.
“You have to go into the game thinking you can win the game,” Nurse said. “I play against these guys every day, so I feel good about this. Give ourselves a chance, have some confidence. Why not, right?”
Defensive wins pay off for Canada
Canada played smothering defence once again including holding Puerto Rico to just 21.1 per cent from the three-point line as they only managed to sink four of their 19 attempts from long, with Guirantes accounting for half of the made shots.
Puerto Rico actually shot better than Canada from two-point range shooting 41.7 per cent, but Canada’s pressure on defence to force the long shots instead of allowing easy driving baskets secured their win.
Canada turned the ball over just four times while scoring 16 points off of Puerto Rico’s turnovers, and recorded the lowest number of turnovers in a game in a Women’s World Cup game in over 30 years as they played meticulously against a small, dynamic Puerto Rico team.
Even when Puerto Rico had a resurgence in the second half — scoring 37 of their 60 points in the half after a slow start to the game — Canada always had them at arm’s length. Even in the fourth quarter, Puerto Rico could not cut down on an 18-point gap.
Colley tallied three steals, Alexander blocked two shots and Canada as a whole grabbed 36 defensive rebounds as they forced Puerto Rico to slow down their fast-paced offence while Canada dominated on offence on their own, creating the perfect balance for a win.
Puerto Rico still had their weapons on top of Guirantes as Trinity San Antonio scored 16 points, Isalys Quinones added 12 points and seven rebounds and Mya Hollingshed had 12 rebounds.
But as Canada held the rest of Puerto Rico’s bench to just 13 points, the game was out of reach by halftime.