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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Natalie Achonwa dishes on Pan Am experience, Kia Nurse

From her days as a few member with national power Notre Dame as well as her experiences as a rookie with the WNBA's Indiana Fever, Natalie Achonwa has seen an impressive individual performance during her playing career.

Achonwa had one of the best vantage points for UConn's Kia Nurse's spectacular performance in the gold-medal game in the Pan Am Games. Nurse scored 33 points to lead Canada to a win over a U.S. team led by UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson.

"She was in a daze, she was in a phase and it was really great," Achonwa said before Tuesday's Indiana/Connecticut WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. "She took over that game and for a young player to do something like that, put the team on her back is great and it is great for our program to see  how far we can go in the upcoming years.

"It was 'and one' (basket and a foul) after 'and one', you let her run in transition and nobody can keep up with her."

So what is Nurse's potential with the Canadian national team.

"It is limitless, as much as Kia wants to do, as much as she wants to invest is what she will get out of it," Achonwa said. "Canada Basketball is something that is not a one-year thing, it is something you do year after year so as much as she invests into it is what she gets out of it.
Her energy and her spark."

Achonwa and Nurse are among a core of young stars on the Canadian national team. Achonwa was thrilled to see the outpouring of support after Canada won the gold medal.

"It is great to have the support of the whole country behind you," Achonwa said. "Toronto was very welcoming and the support in Toronto, we had a packed house every game. People were staying hours after the game to meet us, to shake our hands, give us hugs, to take pictures so it was great that the people we represent were able to finally get to meet us and interact.

"With have great balance on our team to our youngest player like Kia Nurse and Nirra Fields, who are still in college, to some of our older veterans who are in their 30s like Kim Gaucher and Shona Thornburn so we have great balance in terms of experience and energy, we are able to get up and down the court and also execute in the half court when we have to."

Canada will be hosting the Olympic qualifying FIBA Americas tournament next month so Achonwa will be heading up to Edmonton after playing in a few games with the Fever.

"It has definitely had its challenges but it is all worth it," Achonwa said. "I get to do something I love as a job and I get to represent my country, nothing beats that.

"To have the Pan Ams as part of a warm up tournament of the summer it was great and especially to play at home, to have two tournaments at home and allow our Canadian fans to really get to know the Canadian national team."

Achonwa, Nurse and so many of the current stars worked their way up from being stars with the junior national team to now be stalwarts with the senior national team.

"Every summer you have that same energy, that same passion and it is great to have people who have pride in representing their country and putting on that jersey so it is something that most of us have been in and have built through the years from the junior team on up,' Achonwa said. "For it to finally mold together and for us to peaking at the right time, it is great for team sports, women's sports, all kinds of sports in Canada."

A knee injury kept Achonwa from suiting up in either the WNBA or with the Canadian team as they finished fifth in the 2014 FIBA World Championships. Now she is back and contributing to both Canada and the Fever.

"It was hard because I wasn't playing basketball in general but I had so much pride, so much joy and excitement to watch them do that and have a finish that was our best so far," Achonwa said. "It was great to see that we are a team on a rise, we are not even close to being done yet. From playing with the Indiana Fever to playing with Canada I had the itch to do what I love so it is great to be back and play with both of the teams."

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