Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Canada's new uptempo offense a perfect fit for UConn's Kia Nurse

Watching the Canadian team play this summer en route to winning the Pan Am Games and FIBA Americas Women's Championship gold medals, it was impossible not to see the adjustments made by Canadian head coach Lisa Thomaidis and her staff even from just a year ago.

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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Sunday, August 16, 2015

UConn's Kia Nurse leads Canada to FIBA Americas title and Olympic berth

Something about international gold-medal games just seems to bring the best out of UConn guard Kia Nurse.

Nurse was her team's leading scorer when Canada stunned the United States to win the Pan Am Games on home soil last month. She was at it again in Sunday night's FIBA Americas Women's Championship gold medal game in Edmonton.

Nurse had 19 of her team-high 20 points in the first three quarters as Canada defeated Cuba 82-66 to become the fourth team to secure a berth in the 2016 Olympics. She also had three rebounds and three assists in the game. Oh, and she was named the tournament's MVP. Not bad for somebody who won't turn 20 until February.

Nurse had a team-high 11 points in the first half as Canada took a 44-35 into the locker room. However, Cuba made 5 of its first 7 shots in the third quarter during an 11-0 run to give them a two-point advantage. Canada turned up the defensive pressure and Nurse had six points in a span of 2:32 and eight points during a decisive 16-2 run by Canada

Nurse, the youngest member of the Canadian team, scored in double figures in five of her team's six games and finished as the squad's leading scorer just as she was in the Pan Am Games. Nurse averaged 13 points in the six games which ranked third among tournament scorers.

In the Pan Am and FIBA Americas gold-medal games Nurse played 64:57, averaged 26.5 points (shooting 18 of 29 from the field) and had six assists with just one turnover.

"It is an incredible experience," Nurse said in the post-game press conference. "I think our team was pumped about this for sure and to be able to do it and do it a year in advance, play as well as well did throughout the whole tournament was amazing.

"It really has been an incredible summer and to be a part of it has been absolutely phenomenal. We have goals to go into tournaments like this and win the tournament. If you look at the team, you look at the depth that we have, the talent that we have, the sky is the limit. We knew that and if we continued to work each and every day that we could be successful."

It was just eight years ago Canada won just one game and failed to advance to the FIBA Americas semifinals and was not one of the 12 teams in the 2008 Olympics.

Canada joins Brazil, the host country, the U.S., the FIBA World Champions and Serbia, the European champions, as teams already in the Olympic field. Cuba, Argentina and Venezuela will be the three FIBA America representatives at the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women. In the 2012 event Canada had to beat Argentina and Japan to claim one of the final Olympic berths. UPDATE: Australia swept the best of three game series from New Zealand to claim the FIBA Oceania spot in the Olympics.

After the game Canada national team coach Lisa Thomaidis, team captain Kim Gaucher and Nurse spoke about the importance of having clinched the Olympic spot now instead of catering next year's preparation to the Olympic qualifying tournament.

"It is a huge advantage for us heading into next summer," Gaucher said. "Heading into London we were training to peak for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Now we are training next year to peak for Rio and that is a huge difference. The No. 1 goal is to get on the podium in Rio, it is not going to be to get to Rio. It is big for us."

Here are Thomaidis' thoughts on what Gaucher addressed.

"This is tremendous for our program to be able to do it this way and do it a year early, it is so great for these athletes, for the program to get for the next 11 1/2 months leading into Rio is something we weren't able to have the last time around," Thomaidis said. "I think we fired some shots out there that Canada is coming and to know we are doing this this far in advance we get to tailor our training and peak our performance at exactly the right time we need to peak.

"Everything ranks at the top of the list so it is amazing to be a part of. 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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Saturday, August 15, 2015

UConn's Kia Nurse one win away from realizing Olympic dream

It wasn't the best game that Kia Nurse played in the FIBA Americas Women's Championship but with her Canada team beating Brazil to move one win away from a spot in next year's Olympics, I'm sure the UConn guard wasn't complaining.

After missing her first six shots of the game Nurse hit a 3-pointer to give Canada a five-point lead with 1:41 left in the first half. She finished with nine points on 2 of 10 shooting to go with four rebounds, two assists and three steals in the 83-66 victory.

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe came off the bench to score 18 points, Miranda Ayim had 11 points and 
Miah-Marie Langlois added 10 points and 7 assists for Canada, which has to beat Cuba tomorrow to punch a ticket to the Olympics. If Canada were to lose, it would need to finish in the top five in next year's FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Canada national team coach Lisa Thomaidis said she is expecting a much different game after her team's 47-point win over Cuba in pool play on Thursday. Still, she likes the position the team is in.

"It's no accident that we are here," Thomaidis said. "We are very well prepared and we will be very well prepared tomorrow. Our team will have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. We are not by any means a cocky team, we are very humble but we have a quiet confidence about us. There is a ton of belief in each other based on what we are seeing on the floor with different people stepping up and being able to contribute on any night."
Nurse is Canada's leading scorer with an average of 11.6 points per game and is tied for second with six steals in the five games.

Cuba advanced to the final as Clenia Noblet had seven of her 29 points in overtime in an 89-79 victory over Argentina.

Argentina, which was undefeated in the tournament, forced overtime with Celia Fiorotto's only basket of the game with two seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Argentina will get a chance to play in FIBA's Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament next year as well Venezuela, which defeated Puerto Rico 65-56 in the fifth-place game. Meriden's Damika Martinez had six points and three rebounds for Puerto Rico.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

UConn's Nurse leads Canada into FIBA Americas semifinals

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse overcame a slow start offensively to finish with 14 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals to lead Canada to a surprisingly routine 92-43 win over previously undefeated Cuba in a game which decided the Group A title at the FIBA Americas championship.

Four starters scored in double figures for Canada as Miranda Ayim had 12 points while Kim Gaucher and Tamara Tatham added 11 points each as Canada improved to 4-0 and will play Brazil in Saturday's 8 p.m. semifinal. Argentina handed Brazil its first loss of the tournament thanks to a game-ending 10-2 run to record a 73-69 victory.

Canada held Cuba's Yamara Amargo to five points on 1 of 9 shooting. She came into the game leading all players in the tournament averaging 22 points per game.

If there was a negative for Canada it was the apparent ankle injury suffered by veteran guard Shona Thornburn.

Cuba will play the Argentina in the other semifinal with the winners playing on Sunday with a spot in the 2016 Olympics on the line. If Brazil reaches the final then whoever the other finalist is will be guaranteed a spot in the Olympics since Brazil has been granted an automatic berth into the Olympics.

The first game on Saturday will feature Puerto Rico and Venezuela in the fifth-place game. The winner will secure the third and final FIBA Americas spot in next year's Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Meriden's Damika Martinez had a game-high 22 points as Puerto Rico defeated Chile to clinch third place in Group A and set up the game with Venezuela.

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Meriden's Martinez shines for Puerto Rico

Meriden's Damika Martinez barely got off the bench in Puerto Rico's last two games as she failed to score while playing seven minutes while Puerto Rico lost to Cuba and beat the Dominican Republic.

It's safe to say that she made up for lost time today.

Martinez had a game-high 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting as Puerto Rico defeated Chile 92-66 to clinch third place in Group A at the FIBA Americas Championship.

Martinez had three 3-pointers, five rebounds and an assist in a win that gave Puerto Rico a chance to face Venezuela in the fifth-place game Saturday. With Brazil receiving an automatic berth in next year's Olympics, this game will be for the third and final FIBA Americas spot in the 2016 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament. If Brazil did not get the automatic spot, the three berths would have gone to the three squads reaching the FIBA Americas semifinals but failing to win the title.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

UConn's Nurse three wins away from Olympic berth

Canada's dominating performances continued at the FIBA Americas tournament.

Nurse had 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and a blocked shots in 16 minutes in a 111-36 win over the Dominican Republic as Canada moved to 3-0 in Group A.

Nurse was the Canadian player who joined national team coach Lisa Thomaidis in the postgame press conference which was aired live on the FIBA Americas site.

There wasn't much earth-shattering stuff to come out of the presser but Nurse did address playing Cuba, the team which gave Canada its toughest game at the Pan Am Games, in the final pool play game on Thursday.

"I definitely have a little bit of experience against them and with experience comes a little bit of difficulty and a little bit of helpfulness," Nurse said. "You get to understand their players and their tendencies but they get to do the same thing to you. It is just a matter of continuing to play them and every single game is going to be a different game and it will be a different outcome."

If Canada wins three more games it will clinch an Olympic berth (actually, there's a chance that one more win would accomplish the feat if Cuba wins tomorrow and if Canada were to play Brazil in the title game) and a competitor like Nurse is obviously looking forward to the games as the stakes get higher.

"Once the tournament gets going into this part we all know the importance of it, we are all kind of ready for it and amping up to it but it gets exciting at this point too," Nurse said. "You will see that the fist pumps are going crazy now so it is always really exciting."

The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals. Despite a valiant effort, Puerto Rico suffered its second loss of the tournament at the hands of Cuba. If Cuba beats Chile tomorrow both Cuba and Canada will have punched tickets into the semifinals with Thursday's showdown deciding who will earn the No. 1 seed. Argentina and Brazil appear headed into the semifinals in Group B and with Brazil being given an automatic berth into the Olympics, the automatic spot in the Olympics will be down to Canada, Cuba and Argentina.

Miranda Ayim led six Canadian players in double figures with 15 points to go with six rebounds and three assists. UCLA's Nirra Fields had 13 points, former Notre Dame star Natalie Achonwa finished with 12 points while Kim Gaucher and Lizanne Murphy had 11 points each.

Nurse is Canada's leading scorer with an average of 11.7 points per game and the only Canadian player to score in double figures in all three games. Three other players average at least 10 points per game and three others contribute at least eight PPG.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

UConn's Nurse delivers for Canada again

Well, I did not see this coming.

I fully expected Canada to beat Chile to move to 2-0 in pool play at the FIBA Americas but other than Cuba, I thought Chile was the third-best team in the Group A and Canada won by nearly 60 points.

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse was one of three players from Canada with 14 points (joining Tamara Tatham and former Notre Dame star Natalie Achonwa) in the 93-36 victory. Canada had 32 field goals and assisted on 31 on them which is a truly astounding ratio. The lone basket to come without an assist was by Miranda Ayim just 1:12 into the game. It was Canada's second made basket so the final 30 baskets can off assists. I don't recall hearing a stat line like that before.

Nurse, who led Canada in scoring at the Pan Am Games, is once again the top scorer with an average of 12 points per game.

Canada plays the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. It should be noted that the Dominican Republic lost to Chile by 32 points. After getting a day off, Canada wraps up pool play against Cuba on Thursday in a game that could decide the Group A title.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

UConn's Nurse helps Canada win FIBA Americas opener

UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse had 10 points and one rebound as Canada opened play in the FIBA Americas Championship with a 94-57 win over Puerto Rico.

Four Canadian players scored in double figures led by Kim Gaucher who had 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Puerto Rico is playing without star Carla Cortijo, who was injured in a game against the United States in the Pan Am Games and not on the roster. Former Kentucky star Jen O'Neil and Marie Placido had 12 points each while Meriden native Damika Martinez added 10 points.

Next up for Canada is a game against Chile, which opened with an 88-56 win over the Dominican Republic. The game will be played on Monday at 8:30 p.m. Canada needs to finish in the top two in Group A to advance to the semifinals.

The winner of the tournament will qualify for the Olympics. If Brazil, one of the favorites to win Group B, wins the title then the second-place team will get the automatic berth since Brazil was awarded a spot in the tournament.

Second WNBA season has been painful one for forrmer UConn star

Everything seemed to be aligning for Bria Hartley to build on a solid rookie season with the Washington Mystics.

The former UConn star played a starring role as UE Sopron won the Hungarian league title. Hartley then was in the starting lineup in the first two preseason games with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and looked ready to go as she averaged 12 points and a team-leading 4.5 assists in wins over Atlanta and Minnesota.

Then it happened.

“I think in practice I kind of rolled my ankle a little bit but I didn’t think anything of it,” Hartley said before Friday’s game against the Connecticut Sun. “I just kind of thought that I roll my ankle all the time so it was nothing. It kept hurting for days after that. I eventually got the x-ray and saw it was broken. I had an ankle injury in college but it was a sprain so it was a little different.

“I was playing on it. I felt it but to me it wasn’t that bad. I’m known to have a pretty high pain tolerance so but at that point it is broken and you have to stay off of it.”

Hartley missed the final preseason contest and first six games of the regular season before she scored six points in six minutes in a June 23 win over Los Angeles.

Hartley played fewer than 10 minutes in six of the first 11 games she appeared in before playing in a season-high 20 minutes in Wednesday’s win over San Antonio and two days later scored a season-best nine points in a 86-72 loss to Connecticut.

“We are still kind of limiting her minutes, we aren’t having her do a full practice every day,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “We are being careful with it. I would say the last week has been the best. I thought the other night she gave us a big lift so hopefully that will be a positive thing to carry over.”

Hartley, also dealing with a knee sprain, is still wearing a brace on her foot and for a player who relies on her athleticism, it has been a challenge for her to deal with the fact that she can’t make some plays that are normally second nature to her.

“I am starting to get into the flow of things a lot more now,” Hartley said. “It is frustrating at times because you can’t play the way you want to play but things like this take time and you have to stay positive about it, have a good attitude so that is what I tried to do. I think we have been playing pretty well as of late and we want to continue.

“Missing a month of practice never helps especially me, I am such a young player who needs to be out there learning and doing things. I try to have a good mentality to go out there and help my team the best way I can in attacking the basket, getting into the lane and trying to create for people.”

Hartley wasn't able to play the first time Washington played in Connecticut this season but she received a typical warm response from the fans when she checked into Friday's game for the first time.

"It is always cool coming to Mohegan because so many people are UConn fans and they know 'there's Bria, she played for UConn' so that aspect for everything is really cool and the fans usually give us a warm welcome," Hartley said. "It is a little bit of a closer drive than going down to DC for my dad or my mom so they are able to come to the games here as well."

Playing overseas didn’t allow Hartley to keep up with the daily progress during UConn’s march to a third national title but she wasn’t surprised to see her former teammates win another championship even after she and Mystics teammate Stefanie Dolson graduated.

“Every time you look at UConn you expect them to win a title but when the lost that game at the beginning of the year to Stanford people thought ‘oh, this one is kind of up for grabs,’” Hartley said.

"Then they went on that dominant run again. I am sure they learned from their mistakes every day. It wasn’t easy, Dayton had a tough first half (in the NCAA tournament) but they made it through and they are able to win.”

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