OSAKA, Japan (February 10, 2022) — Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team dropped a hard-fought 86-79 overtime decision to Japan to open play in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Osaka, Japan on Thursday.
Canada led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter before Japan mounted a furious comeback to force overtime. In the extra session, Japan outscored Canada 13-6 to complete the comeback victory.
“First of all, congratulations to Japan,” Senior Women’s National Team head coach Víctor LaPeña said. “They believed in the victory to the end. I’m proud of my team because with three or four days together we haven’t come to practice to have the shape we needed in the last minutes, but we were fighting.
“Now I have more information for the future about my team, about my players and how I can help them to manage these moments,” LaPeña continued.
Canada was led by a game-high 19 points from Nirra Fields and an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double from Natalie Achonwa in the loss. Bridget Carleton and Kayla Alexander added 12 points apiece.
Japan was led by an 18-point performance from Stephanie Mawuli and 15 points from Himawari Akaho, including the layup that sent the game into overtime.
“Japan is a very good team,” Alexander said. “I felt like we were in it at the beginning of the game, we understood the game plan and then just towards the end, down the stretch, we couldn’t get some stops, couldn’t get some shots to fall, but we played really hard. We played really well and Japan played a great game.”
After an opening quarter that finished with Canada holding a 17-15 advantage, the Canadians took control in the second quarter, outscoring Japan 23-8 to take a 40-23 lead at the half. Midway through the third, a pair of free throws from Achonwa extended Canada’s lead to 20 points, but Japan closed the quarter on a 19-7 run to go into the fourth trailing by just eight.
Fields scored on back-to-back possessions for Canada to open the fourth quarter, but a pair of three-pointers for Japan cut Canada’s lead to five. Japan’s fourth three-pointer of the quarter brought Japan within two points, and a layup from Mawuli tied the game at 65 with 3:22 remaining. The teams traded baskets from there until a layup from Akaho tied the game and forced overtime.
This was the first time that LaPeña was able to meet with his players in person since being announced as the head coach of the program in January. LaPeña and his staff were able to get in just a handful of practice sessions with the team prior to Thursday’s game.
“What’s important for me is that they believe in the game plan and that they believe in me,” he said. “For me, I feel very comfortable with them and now we have to keep working to use the Bosnia game [on Saturday] to grow up and to be able to understand me to them and them to me because it’s my first time, my first game with them.”
LaPeña acknowledged that fatigue likely played a part late in the game as Japan fed off the momentum of the home crowd as they made their comeback.
“I was super happy with the first 20, 23 minutes, we did a great job,” LaPeña said. “We understand the game, we read [the game] perfectly, what the game needed to be on the court.”
Though his team didn’t pick up the victory on Thursday, LaPeña was focused on the positives they will take with them in preparation for Saturday’s contest.
“Everything is positive for me today, except the defeat,” he said with a smile. I don’t like the defeat.”
Up next, Canada will face Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 1 A.M. ET. Fans in Canada can watch all of the action live on Sportsnet 360.
Team Canada (Courtesy FIBA)
Courtesy Canada Basketball