EDMONTON, AB (November 16, 2019) - The Canadian Senior Women’s National Team held on to record an 84-80 victory over Puerto Rico on Saturday night to advance to the FIBA Women’s Olympic Tournament in February.

Canada was led by Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe’s game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds in the thriller that went down the wire.  Kia Nurse added 17 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Miranda Ayim added 11 points. Raincock-Ekunwe shot a blistering 10-for-12 from the floor, including 1-for-3 from beyond the arc as she scored her 27 points in 31 minutes of action. Puerto Rico was led by a 21-point effort from Jennifer O’Neill and 16 points from Jazmon Gwathmey.

“That’s Canada basketball,” Natalie Achonwa said. “Playing together, we have so many different pieces that can be impactful. That was Nayo tonight and the crazy part is I think she could have done even more.”

Getting the win in front of friends and family made the night even better for Raincock-Ekunwe.

“I think that’s my [scoring] high with Canada Basketball so I’m really happy I could do it here in front of my mom and my best friends,” she said. “This is the first time my mom has seen me play in three years so it’s very special to be in Edmonton. She came from Penticton, so it’s good to be here.”

Canada finished the game shooting 48 percent from the floor, while holding Puerto Rico to 43 percent shooting. Trailing by seven at the midway point of the fourth quarter, Puerto Rico began its comeback, chipping away at the deficit until a four-point play from Pamela Rosado tied the game at 78 with 33 seconds remaining. The teams would trade trips to the free throw line in the final seconds with Canada going a perfect 6-0 to seal the victory.

“We need those games,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “I’m so glad we got one of those here. I think that’s going to be so important for us moving forward. We got to learn a lot about ourselves tonight. Some people really stepped up when we needed them to and got to job done. Full credit to Puerto Rico, they made some tough shots tonight. They made it tough on us.”

After a back and forth first quarter where both teams struggled from the floor, Canada held a slight 15-16 lead after the opening 10 minutes, as the teams traded makes in the final seconds. 

Canada started to settle in midway through the second quarter. Leading by two with 3:09 remaining in the half, Canada outscored Puerto Rico 8-4 to close the half to extend their lead to six, 33-27 at the break. Canada shot 41 percent from the floor in the half, while holding Puerto Rico to 32 percent shooting. Both teams struggled to connect from deep early, with Puerto Rico making just 2-of-13 three-point attempts and Canada connecting on 2-of-9 attempts. Ayim led Canada with nine points in the half, while O’Neill also had nine points to lead Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico came out strong and it was a little bit of a punch in the face at halftime. It really challenged who we are as a team and what our identity is,” Achonwa said. “The second half you saw more of that. When you’re playing top teams in the world, you’ve got to play 40 minutes. It’s a great learning experience for us. We got the win at the end of the day, but [there are] things to grow and things to learn from.”

The second half opened with the two teams trading threes. With Canada leading by five, Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage got the steal and fed O’Neill for another three to trim the lead to two, 39-37 with 8:10 remaining. Much like the first half, things continued to go back and forth as the teams traded baskets before a three-pointer from O’Neill gave Puerto Rico a one-point lead, 48-37 with 5:12 to go in the third.

Canada called a timeout trailing by one with 3:51 to go in the third. After the teams traded misses out of the timeout, Jamie Scott hit a three-pointer to put Canada back in front and then Nurse drove the length of the court and was fouled, making both free throws. A pair of free throws from Gwathmey trimmed the lead to two, and then a three-point play, also from Gwathmey, gave Puerto Rico a one-point lead before Shaina Pellington grabbed an offensive rebound and got a layup to go with 45 seconds remaining in the third. After a pair of offensive rebounds for Canada, Raincock-Ekunwe scored on a layup to give Canada a slight 59-57 lead into the fourth quarter.

Though three quarters, Canada shot 45 percent from the floor while Puerto Rico shot 41 percent. O’Neill led all scorers with 17 points through three to lead Puerto Rico, while Canada was led by 14 points from Raincock-Ekunwe and 13 from Nurse.

“Hats off to Puerto Rico they really came to play,” Raincock-Ekunwe said. “They wanted it. I’m just happy we found our rhythm in the fourth quarter because we were really slow the first three quarters. Our offence had no flow, no pace no rhythm. Finally in the last five minutes of the fourth we got it together.”

With the intensity up and the game on the line down the stretch, Canada’s poise at the free throw line was the difference. Up next for the Canadians is a meeting with Dominican Republic at 4 P.M. local time (6 P.M. ET) on Sunday.