Basketball·CBC SPORTS IN TOKYO

Canadian women's basketball team drops Olympic opener to Serbia

Canada’s women’s basketball team came to the Tokyo Olympics trying to write a new chapter in this country’s otherwise bleak international basketball history. It didn’t start well. Canada lost 72-68 to Serbia on Monday to kick off pool play at the women's Olympic basketball tournament in Saitama, Japan.

Canada looks to shake off rough start next game vs. South Korea

Canada's Kia Nurse, centre, fights for the ball between two Serbia players during their game on Monday at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. (Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada's women's basketball team came to the Tokyo Olympics trying to write a new chapter in this country's otherwise bleak international basketball history.

It didn't start well. Canada lost 72-68 to Serbia to kick off pool play at the women's Olympic basketball tournament, where Canada is aiming to capture its first medal in Olympic basketball since in 1936.

Playing its first meaningful game together as a team since February 2020, Canada appeared to be tight coming out of the gate, never really looking comfortable in the first half.

Despite shooting only 28 per cent in the first two quarters, they only trailed by eight points at halftime.

"Some of our choices could have been better," said Canadian head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who was visibly upset a number of times at some of her team's shot selection.

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"[With] our style of play, we want to get out, be dynamic and I think we slowed the ball down at times and played into their hands."

Defence wasn't the problem. Canada forced Serbia into 28 turnovers but couldn't make shots when it mattered, converting an ice cold 5-for-23 attempts from three-point range.

Canada looked much sharper in the second half and, for a moment, looked like they were poised to take control of the game.

Trailing 38-29 midway through the third quarter, Kia Nurse sparked a 13-2 run, scoring seven points and assisting on another basket, to give Canada its first lead since early in the game.

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"I think we did a better job with our defence and just leaning into that and understanding that we were turning them over pretty well — a couple of steals here and there and some easy baskets," said Nurse, who finished with 16 points. "We did a better job of that and our communication was better."

Canada couldn't sustain the momentum.

Down the stretch, a couple of missed free throws combined with some clutch Serbian shot-making sealed their fate.

Change the narrative

This Canadian team, a mix of rising stars and seasoned Olympians, came to Tokyo talking about changing Canada's basketball narrative after the team crashed out in the quarter-finals at the last two Olympics.

Besides Nurse, with the Phoenix Mercury, the roster includes two other WNBA players: Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa, both with the Minnesota Lynx.

Thomaidis says her team needs to build off some of the success it found as the game went on. And fast.

"There's no second chance here and the second half is a good indication of how we want to play."

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Canada will have to rebound quickly when it takes on South Korea later this week.

The other team in this pool, third-ranked Spain, beat the Koreans earlier today 73-69.

"There is parity in this Olympic draw," Thomaidis says. " Any team is capable of beating anyone else. It's going to be very important for us to respond and come out strong against Korea."

In Tokyo, 12 teams are divided into three groups of four during the preliminary stage.

The top two teams from each group, plus two wild cards, advance to the quarter-finals. 

If Canada wants to play for a medal, winning its group is important. The top finisher will likely avoid a quarter-final matchup with the powerful U.S team.

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