Basketball

Kim Gaucher, WNBA trio head for Tokyo to reunite Canadian women's basketball team

WNBA players Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton left for Tokyo alongside Kim Gaucher on Monday, set to mark the first time the Canadian women’s basketball team has been fully together since February 2019.

Squad set to be whole for 1st time since Olympic qualifying in February 2019

Point guard Kim Gaucher, seen above, left for Tokyo today alongside WNBA players Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa ahead of the Olympics. (Vianney Thibaut/Team Canada)

WNBA players Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton left for Tokyo alongside Kim Gaucher on Monday, set to mark the first time the Canadian women's basketball team has been fully together since February 2019.

The squad met regularly through video calls during the pandemic, even conducting a full training camp virtually, and all the non-WNBAers have been training together since May.

Now, 13 days before its Olympic tournament begins against Serbia, the team is finally whole.

"Once we have everyone here, I think it's going to feel pretty real. And then it's like full steam ahead getting everyone up to speed and getting to a level where we're just continuing to build confidence heading into the Games," head coach Lisa Thomaidis said on Friday.

Currently stationed in Kariya City, Japan, the fourth-ranked team by FIBA will head to Tokyo on Sunday before playing exhibitions against No. 10 Japan on Monday and No. 5 France on Wednesday.

Those games should provide key minutes for players to get on the court together in a competitive environment.

It's plausible all four of Nurse, Carleton, Achonwa and Gaucher immediately slide into starting roles, though the players who have been there since May will certainly be in the mix.

Gaucher last played a game in March for French club USO Mondeville before giving birth to baby daughter Sophie.

Gaucher spared difficult decision

Though it originally appeared Gaucher would have to choose between Sophie and Tokyo, a recent rule change from the Tokyo Organizing Committee allowing newborns and caretakers to attend the Games despite the ban on family and friends cleared the way for the Canadian.

Achonwa, meanwhile, is recovering from a sprained right knee suffered in WNBA play.

"She's going to be cutting the timelines pretty close I think, but knowing Nat, she's such a competitor. ... So we're confident she's going to be ready," Thomaidis recently said.

Nurse led the Mercury with 28 points in their final game before the Olympic break on Sunday, drilling a career-high seven three-pointers in a loss to the reigning champion Storm.

The Hamilton, Ont., native is averaging nearly 10 points and four rebounds in her first season in Phoenix.

Carleton, meanwhile, scored 10 points on Sunday as her Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks. Carleton has scored 4.8 points per game over 19 contests this year.

Without the four latest arrivals, Canada slumped to fourth place at the FIBA AmeriCup in June. It was the first time since 2007 that Canada missed the podium at the biannual tournament.

Still, after two straight Olympic quarter-final exits, the expectation now is to reach the podium for the first time in the program's history. Canada's only Olympic basketball medal was won by the men in 1936.

The women will play three games in group play, against No. 8 Serbia on July 26, No. 19 Korea on July 29 and No. 3 Spain on August 1.

The knockout stage begins Aug. 4, with the gold-medal match slated for Aug. 8.

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