After Canada playing slightly better than Spain for three quarters, the second-ranked women’s team in the world showed their class and blitzed past Canada in the final quarter. Though Canada brought one of its strongest rosters in history to Spain for the World Cup, they were unable to advance past the quarter-finals. Kia Nurse finished an impressive tournament, leading Canada in scoring. She could feasibly lead the tournament in scoring, as Canada will still compete to finish fifth. Nurse has quickly seized the mantle of the face of Canada’s women’s basketball program. With Nurse only 22-years old, and other young players shining for the team, Canada still has a bright future ahead.
Jitters seemed to play a role early in the game, as both Canada and Spain played sloppily to start their first elimination game of the Women’s Basketball World Cup. It took well over a minute for either team to score, as Alba Torrens scored Spain’s first bucket on a triple after an offensive rebound. Canada struck back as Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe finished on the roll out of the pick-and-roll.
Canada’s offensive struggles continued, as Kia Nurse and Kim Gaucher clanked open jumpers that would have given them the lead. On the other end, Spain’s size continued to provide troubles for Canada; the Spaniards collected various offensive rebounds – though weren’t able to finish either. Canada continued missing though, as Nurse fumbled a dribble out of bounds attempting to drive baseline and then missed a midrange pull-up from the other baseline.
Nurse finally connected on a nifty handoff, hitting a jumper to give Canada a 7-3 lead. Their physical defence continued to give Spain trouble, as the hosts weren’t able to get any looks from inside the paint. Canada hedged all ball screens screens high, walling off dribble penetration, and helpers behind the play rotated with speed, forcing Spain’s rolling bigs to cough up ugly attempts. Stamina played a difference in the first quarter, as Canada was playing with multiple days more rest than Spain.
Shay Colley took over on offence for Canada, scoring on consecutive dribble-drives, and then hitting a pull-up triple to increase Canada’s lead to 14-6. Colley finished the first quarter with 10 points. After a timeout, Spain scored a few buckets in transition, followed by a corner jumper, to cut the lead to 16-13 heading into the second quarter.
Raincock-Ekunwe scored an athletic lefty layup out of a pick-and-roll to start the second for Canada to steady the ship. However, Spanish momentum continued rolling. Canada couldn’t stick jumpers, as Spain finally found a way into the paint by hitting their bigs earlier in the pick-and-roll. Those rollers kicked out to the corners quickly for open Spanish jumpers. Spain re-captured the lead 19-18 midway through the quarter after an easy putback. The onslaught continued.
A banked-in triple from Gaucher stopped the bleeding, pulling Canada to 21-23. They needed every last bit of luck, as Spain’s offence was revving to maximum efficiency. Canada’s offence ground to a crawl, but a slow parade to the free throw line from Raincock-Ekunwe and others kept Canada’s head above water.
Torrens scored well for Spain, but Miranda Ayim recorded a monster two-hand block to dissuade Torrens from re-entering the lane. Canada began running its offence through the post, and Ayim launched a faceup jumper that again unintentionally banked into the basket. It was reminiscent of Tim Duncan, but more importantly it gave brought Canada into a 27-27 tie. Spain dominated in the paint, but Canada’s jumpers fell more consistently. Canada went into half down 27-29, and they had to be happy to be within only two points.
Though the third quarter would eventually be Canada’s, Spain began with crisp offensive sets in the third, hitting a smooth runner out of an action in the middle of the floor. Canada responded with three turnovers in their first four possessions; fortunately, the one non-turnover resulted in a Kia Nurse triple. A Nurse layup in transition brought Canada to within a single point, but Torrens answered with a layup of her own on the other end.
Both offences continued to make shots midway through the third, cleaning up the gritty defensive struggle of the first half. At one point, the teams had combined to make 10 consecutive buckets. Nurse especially shone, making a smooth layup in transition to bring Canada back into a tie, 42-42. A Natalie Achonwa putback thrust Canada into the lead, but Torrens again tied the game.
Then both teams’ roles from the first half seemed to reverse. Nurse picked off a steal for an easy layup, giving Canada a 4-point lead. Spain began to live at the line, hitting a parade of free throws to stay within striking distance. An incredible Colley finger-roll with only four seconds left on the clock gave Canada a 50-47 lead heading into the final frame.
Spain was the team with momentum early in the fourth, connecting on consecutive shots to take the lead. Canada was hoisting contested midrange jumpshots at the other end, unable to manufacture easy looks early. Casas finished an impressive layup to push Spain’s lead further, and she followed that with perhaps the play of the game. Casas stole the ball on defence and streaked down, flinging a left-handed layup high off the glass as she was clobbered by a Canadian defender. Canada immediately was down 50-56 within the blink of an eye.
In fact, Canada went the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter before even hitting a free throw. Kia Nurse missed an open triple, but that was about the only easy shot they managed to create. Turnovers and shot-clock violations were more common, as Spain’s defence tightened in clutch time. Spain continued to hit jumpers, and the lead quickly ballooned to double-digits. Though the game was defined by exchanges of momentum, Canada’s highs were a little lower than Spain’s. Even when Canada was scoring at their best, they couldn’t push their lead larger than three or five points, usually. Spain knew when to step on their opponents’ throats, and Canada will be disappointed not to compete for a medal.
The fourth quarter was a collapse, but there were some bright spots. Nurse finished the tournament scoring 18.5 points per game, good enough for third-highest of the tournament at the time of this writing. Colley and Raincock-Ekunwe had bright spots. In the end, Spain’s veteran poise proved too great, but the Canadians will certainly be heard from in the future.