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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

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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