Canadian Kayla Alexander did not show signs of weariness in the dying moments of Thursday’s game.
Up 58-56 in the 4th quarter, Alexander went to the free-throw line for the first time in the game. She sank both free throws, propelling Canada to a 61-56 over Belgium at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
In a game where Canada converted just 68 percent of its free throws, Alexander showcased her ability to raise her level of play in the big moments.
“Those are great games to be a part of,” Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis said after the game. “We had a lot of players who played big moments and tonight shows how we can handle them, ride those waves and handle the momentum shifts and still come out on top. It was fun.”
Alexander contributed 12 points in her first game back since dealing with a knee injury.
New York Liberty All-Star Kia Nurse led all Canadians in points with 19, possessing a +11 net rating. Having gone to the Rio Olympics in 2016, Nurse knows the importance of getting off to a successful start in the qualifying tournament.
“That was a great way to start the tournament and a great team win,” Nurse said postgame. “The morale was extremely high, the passion, the excitement to be here, being in this position to have the opportunity to do something special to get to Tokyo.”
One of Nurse’s teammates for New York Liberty, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, added seven points and six rebounds in Canada’s win on Thursday. Shaina Pellington, the second-youngest Canadian on the team, also recorded seven points.
Canada controlled the lead the majority of the game, going as high as 16 points. But the Belgium squad never gave up, bringing the deficit to two points after Hanne Mestdagh sank a three-pointer at 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Canadian defense played a critical role in Thursday’s victory. The unit forced 19 Belgium turnovers, holding them to 32.8 percent shooting. Canada scored 17 points off turnovers, thanks to Nurse and Bridget Carlton each leading the team with three steals.
2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meeseman led Belgium in scoring with 14 points. The Mestdagh sisters, Kim and Hanne, generated 12 and 9 points respectively.
Canada takes on Sweden Saturday, February 8th at 2:35 pm EST. If the Canadians win this game, they will secure their berth to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.