With a gold medal on Monday night, the Canadian women’s basketball team contributed two significant milestones. Of note, it continued host country Canada’s streak of at least one gold medal in every day of play. Perhaps more importantly, it marked the first time ever that Canada’s women claimed a gold medal in Pan Am Games basketball.
After one quarter of play, the Americans enjoyed a 23-13 lead. Benefitting from the presence of University of Connecticut superstars Breanna Stewart (the favorite to go first overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft) and Moriah Jefferson, they could not have foreseen the Canadian contingent assembling 10 unanswered points, changing the tempo of the game.
Defeating the United States by an 81-73 count, Kia Nurse played the game of her career, logging 33 points, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. During the second period, Nurse would steal the ball and dish an assist, giving Canada their first lead of the game, 31-30. With a 36-36 draw at halftime, Nurse propelled the Canadians to unprecedented heights in the second half.
At one point, the United States faced a 17-point deficit as the sold-out crowd at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (inside Toronto’s iconic Maple Leaf Gardens) was jubilant with pride. Despite the home court advantage, Canada saw their lead diminish to 11 points as the fourth period began.
Additional heroics were supplied by Natalie Achonwa, who returned to the Canadian roster after suffering a torn ACL last year. Supplying 13 points, her return helped Canada accomplish five wins in five nights. Other opponents that Canada vanquished included the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela. Providing a solid performance on dfense, Tamara Tatham also managed 10 points.
Both Achonwa and Nurse would help put the game out of reach against the US. Hanging on to a five-point lead with only 18 seconds remaining, Achonwa converted on a free throw, while Nurse followed with two of her own, extending said lead to eight points. When Nurse was at the free throw line, excited fans were chanting “M-V-P”. With under four minutes left, Nurse had to be carried off the court due to a collision. The fans gave her a standing ovation, energizing her to return to the court.
Of note, Nurse comes from a very athletic family. Her brother Darnell was a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, while her cousin Sarah plays hockey with the Wisconsin Badgers program. Sarah has also experienced the jubilation of donning the Maple Leaf, playing for the U18 Canadian women’s hockey team. Their uncle Donovan McNabb was a former quarterback in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.
Qualification for the 2016 Rio Summer Games shall begin in August. The Canadians shall hope for the benefit of home court advantage as the FIBA Qualifying Tournament takes place in Edmonton.