Canada Basketball has had a handful of big, meaningful wins before. Now, add Wednesday's performance by the senior women against the Czech Republic at the FIBA world championship to the list.
Coming off a tough loss to France the day before -- when the Canadians couldn't execute at all down the stretch -- the women bounced back in resounding form, winning 91-71
by never letting up against a physically imposing Czech squad ranked fifth in the world.
Canada moves on to play Australia in the quarter-finals Friday. The Czechs are going home.
"I wasn't sure I'd see the day when we scored 91 points in a game," said head coach Lisa Thomaidis from Ankara, Turkey minutes after Canada's 20-point victory.
"[As a win for the program] this ranks right up there. Because of the youth and the turnover we've had the last few years, and how quickly we've been able to get this team and remain at this level is hugely significant."
Thomaidis may have been surprised by the point total, but not necessarily the win.
"Months ago when I saw the draw, I said this is the matchup we wanted," she explained Wednesday. "We knew we had a great chance against the Czechs because our speed can negate their size, and that's what really dominated the offensive end for us."
The turnaround from Tuesday was significant. Canada shot 54 per cent Wednesday. After being outrebounded 39-28 by France, they outdueled the Czechs 41-23 on the glass and had 18 second-chance points.
The youth Thomaidis mentioned has also specifically played a major role in four games so far in Turkey. Forward Katherine Plouffe scored 13 points and pulled down five rebounds against the Czechs, with twin 21-year-old sister Michelle going for eight and five. Guard Nirra Fields added 15 points.
"Katherine has been the picture of consistency this entire summer," said Thomaidis. "And Michelle has really picked up her game."
Achonwa recovering from surgery
With forward Natalie Achonwa back home recovering from ACL surgery and former Syracuse centre-turned WNBA first rounder Kayla Alexander left off the team due to a lack of training time, the Canadians have needed all the Plouffe sisters can give them up front.
Yet it's the continuing development of 18-year-old point guard Kia Nurse that has been particularly noteworthy. Nurse -- younger sister of Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell and niece of former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb -- dropped 12 points with two assists Wednesday, earning more praise from Thomaidis.
"Kia started out the game hitting a pull-up jumper," said the coach. "We really got on her all summer about that pull-up and finishing around the hoop. She's just improving every single day."
Before the world championship began, Thomaidis told me that while Nurse is mature beyond her years, she was still concerned about her inexperience as an international point guard.
After all, she hasn't even played college basketball yet. That didn't bother the Hamilton, Ont., native on Wednesday.
"She's played against 30 year olds for the last two summers, and it's really put her in a great position now."
Wednesday's win marks the first time the Canadian women are guaranteed a top-eight finish in the world championship since 1994, although a tough test looms against world No. 2 Australia on Friday.
"They represent a massive challenge for us, but we'll have a solid game plan because you know what to expect from them," said Thomaidis. "They're going to play tough and physical, but they've got some things to worry about us as well."
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