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Canada pummels South Korea for pivotal win in Olympic women's basketball

·NBA reporter
·4 min read

Canada secured a crucial 74-53 win over South Korea to keep themselves in contention for a third-consecutive medal in women's Olympic basketball.

It was a choppy game that was heavily lacking in outside shooting, but the Canadians led for most of the way and were able to decidedly pull away from South Korea in the fourth quarter. Canada struggled with 6-foot-6 centre Park Ji Su, who dominated the paint, but veterans Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander were up to the task, while Bridget Carleton provided most of the scoring from the perimeter.

Depth and youth is making a difference

The main thing keeping Canada competitive thus far is their energy. In their narrow loss to Serbia, it was their intense traps which forced the 2021 Eurobasket champions into 28 turnovers. And in this beatdown over South Korea, the separating factor was how hard Canada battled on the glass. The Canadians secured 22 offensive rebounds despite being undersized in the frontcourt, and it was a team effort with nine players chipping in. 

It requires a certain fitness level to play as intensely as the Canadians have, and it's a credit to coach Lisa Thomaidis for leaning into this advantage by making quick subs with her frontcourt and extending her rotation. Canada's halfcourt offence has stalled for the first two games to start since they're shooting 10-of-50 from deep, but they have smartly used their energy to create extra chances to make up the gap.

Bridget Carleton steps up

This was a team effort by Canada, but the best of the group was Carleton, who led all scorers with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Minnesota Lynx guard struggled in the loss to Serbia, but she came on strong with a two-way performance. 

Defensively, Carleton threw her weight around battling bigger players in the post, forced a shot-clock violation with her ball pressure, and made the play of the game by blocking a three-point attempt before sparking her own fast break layup. On offence, Carleton slipped into the right gaps, flashing to the post for timely baskets, nailing a three late, and also driving inside for an acrobatic and-one finish despite being pulled down by the defender which pushed Canada into a run that secured the win. 

Carleton has the ability to impact the game at a high level for this team, and Thomaidis is showing lots of faith in the 24-year-old from Chatham, Ont. She's played the second-most minutes out of anyone thus far, and is a two-way player who knows where to be in a three-guard backcourt that has created good looks that have yet to fall thus far. Carleton is lacking a bit in height, but as she showed in this game, she is willing to battle and play bigger than her frame. 

Canada's Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton react after their victory.  (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)
Canada's Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton react after their victory. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

Kia Nurse needs to heat up

Carleton alone won't be enough for Canada to secure a medal in Tokyo 2020, as the team is still awaiting the superstar level performance that Kia Nurse is capable of. Nurse is undoubtedly Canada's leading player, as she is their go-to creator and has played the most minutes thus far, but she continues to misfire. In Game 1, Nurse clanked open midrange jumpers and saw four of five threes rim out. In Game 2, Nurse missed two point-blank layups and was visibly annoyed near the end of the game despite Canada having secured the win. 

Part of this is self-inflicted, as Nurse takes it upon herself to take shots that are more difficult than necessary. The impression is almost that she feels the responsibility to spark the team when the offence is stuck — which has been the case in both games — but Nurse's main job as the team's go-to player is to create as many easy looks as possible. Nurse is a very capable and talented player, someone who can light it up from the perimeter while also having the toughness to score inside, but forcing it is always an uphill battle. Thomaidis will surely be poring over the tape to see how Nurse can get better looks, but it's also up to the player to execute. The team needs Nurse at her best to beat Spain on Saturday. 

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