Canada's new uptempo offense a perfect fit for UConn's Kia Nurse
The decision to put the pedal to the metal is certainly looking rather brilliant.
First it was Canada winning the Pan Am Games capped by an impressive gold-medal game win over the United States team headlined by UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. However, that the just the opening act.
Canada rolled to its first FIBA Americas Women's title in 20 years in dominating fashion, winning its four pool play games by an average of 54.5 points per game. Then Canada beat experienced and talented teams from Brazil and Cuba by almost identical scores of 83-66 and 82-66 to clinch a spot in next year's Olympics.
Before the tournament started I spoke with Thomaidis and UConn guard Kia Nurse and this more exciting brand of basketball the team is playing was one of the subjects I brought up.
"We wanted to play at a faster pace," Thomaidis said. "It's fun to watch the improvements we've had in that area."
In 2011 Canada lost to Cuba in the gold-medal match and ultimately was the fifth and final team at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament from Women to earn a spot in the 2012 Olympics.
Just five players from the 2011 FIBA Americas squad remain, most of them frontcourt players.
Nurse was the team's leading scorer just as she was in the Pan Am Games and the 19-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native earned tournament MVP honors after her 20-point effort in last night's gold-medal game. Just as important to the team's success has been the emergence of starting point guard Miah-Marie Langlois who led the Canadian team with 157 minutes played and with 37 assist (against just 11 turnovers). Langlois' presence enabled Nurse, who at times ran the Canadian offense a year ago, to move exclusively to the off guard position where she thrived both offensively and defensively.
"You look at how we play at Connecticut too, we get out in transition so for me that is when my speed works to my advantage and that is when I am usually most successful out in transition so that is something benefiting me," said Nurse, who averaged 26.5 points with six assists and one turnovers in the Pan Am and FIBA Americas gold medal games.
UCLA senior Nirra Fields was another of the new backcourt players to shine for Canada while former Notre Dame star Natalie Achonwa was part of an influx of talent up front.
The statistical comparison from 2011 to 2015 is staggering. Canada took an additional 11 shots per game but more impressively went from shooting 39.5 percent from the field to 50 percent. They made and attempted more 3-pointers and free throws. They also averaged 8.5 more assists per game while they committed nearly six fewer turnovers per contest as they raised their per-game scoring average by more than 30 points.
Thomaidis, who deserves a ton of praise for adjusting the system to fit the strengths of her squad, was quick to give credit to her players following the gold-medal game.
"Everything ranks at the top of the list so it is amazing to be a part of," Thomaidis said. "The amount that everybody improved from last year to this year was remarkable and to do it again next year, who knows what is possible. Full credit to them because we left last year and gave them things to work on and everybody came back and improved."
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