EDMONTON, AB (November 14, 2019) - The Canadian Senior Women’s National team kicked off group play in the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament with a dominant 110-53 victory over Cuba on Thursday in Edmonton. 

“It was a great first game,” Miranda Ayim said. “We’re all excited to be here. For us it’s a really important time to get some good games against some good competition.”

Kia Nurse led the way in the victory with a game-high 28 points, while Ayim added 14 points and Sami Hill, Natalie Achonwa and Jamie Scott all added 10 points apiece for Canada. Cuba was led by 12-points apiece from Anisleidy Galindo and Yamara Amargo. Canada finished the game shooting 54 percent while holding Cuba to 31 percent shooting.

“I think our depth really showed tonight,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “Once we were able to up that defensive intensity and get out in transition we were able to score in bunches and that really was the difference.”

Ayim also pointed to the team’s depth, crediting her teammates for finding her as she scored her 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting. “I have great teammates who pass me the ball,” Ayim said. “It’s fun, it’s a lot of fun to play in Canada and it’s fun to play in Edmonton. It’s kind of our second home, so it’s nice for us.”

Achonwa added a game-high eight rebounds as Canada won the rebounding battle 57-33, including 17-10 on the offensive glass.

“Our goal is to win the rebounding battle each night,” Thomaidis said. “We have players who are willing to put their bodies on the line, grind it out, get in there and make sure we do come down [with the board]."

The Canadians led by 13 after the opening 10 minutes and by 21 at the half, but it was the third quarter where they really put the game out of reach. Canada won the third 33-7 to lead by 47 points heading into the final frame. “I think something we’re really, really good at is using our speed to our advantage,” Nurse said. “We have great point guards who push our pace and our bigs run really, really well and are mobile. That’s something we try to use to our advantage.”

Early in the game, it was Bridget Carleton who got Canada on the board with a pair of free throws with 9:05 remaining in the first quarter. A bucket from Nurse and a three-pointer from Hill gave Canada a 7-0 lead before Cuba scored its first points on a layup from Anisleidy Galindo. After a quick start by Canada, Cuba pushed back and a corner three from Suchitel Avila cut Canada’s lead to three, 18-15, forcing the Canadians into a timeout with 2:52 remaining in the quarter. 

Team Canada scored immediately out of the timeout on a layup from Shaina Pellington, then stretched its lead to eight with a three-point play from Ayim. Picking up the defensive effort, Nurse got a steal and was fouled on a drive to the basket. She converted a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 11 for Canada. After the opening 10 minutes, Canada held a 28-15 lead as Nurse led all scorers with eight points.  

In the second quarter, Cuba scored first, but Nurse immediately responded on the other end, getting to the line for a pair of free throws. Ruth Hamblin converted on the pass from Hill to extend Canada’s lead to 32-17 with 8:16 remaining in the half. A steal and a score from Cuba trimmed Canada’s lead to 12, and then eight before Canada closed the half on a 17-4 run to take a 21-point advantage and 53-32 lead into the halftime break.

Nurse led all scorers at the half with a game-high 13 points to go with three assists, while Ayim added 11 points and Hill added five assists. Canada shot 54 percent in the first half, compared to just 37 percent for Cuba. 

“For us it’s a matter of getting this time together,” Nurse said. “Getting out on our home soil and being able to develop as a team and develop our chemistry, knowing hopefully, if this goes well, going towards February we’ll have a whole lot of time to prepare.”

Canada continued to push coming out of the break, opening the second half on a 10-2 run to extend their advantage to 29 points midway through the third. Canada’s defence was on display, holding Cuba to just seven points in the quarter. A three-pointer from Hill at the end of the quarter gave Canada an 86-39 lead heading into the fourth.

The fourth quarter opened with a steal and layup from Hill. A three-pointer from Nurse extended Canada’s lead to 91-41 at the 7:02 mark and the team went on to pick up the win from there.

Despite a strong first game from her team to begin the tournament, Thomaidis was already looking ahead to Saturday, where Canada will face Puerto Rico at 5 P.M. local time (7 P.M. ET).

“We’re always trying to get that elusive perfect game,” she said. “There’s lots of errors, lots of mistakes we can clean up for sure. We’ll focus on these things and [try to] keep getting better, that’s really the goal right now. Each game we’ve got to continue to improve upon and make sure execution is that much better tomorrow than tonight. Keep picking away.”