Canada's women's basketball team tops Puerto Rico for spot in Olympic qualifier

The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — It had been three years since Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe played in front of her family. She made certain to put on a show Saturday night.

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe had 27 points and 11 rebounds as Canada booked its spot in the FIBA Women's Olympic qualifying tournament with an 84-80 victory over Puerto Rico in pre-qualifying play.

"That's my high with Canada Basketball and I'm really happy that I could do it here in front of my mom and my best friends," said Raincock-Ekunwe.

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Kia Nurse chipped in with 17 points, while Miranda Ayim added 11. Jamie Scott scored eight and Natalie Achonwa recorded seven points and seven rebounds as Canada, which began the pre-qualifier with a win over Cuba on Thursday, guaranteed itself a top-two finish for a berth in one of the final qualifiers in February.

The Canadians outscored the No. 24 ranked Puerto Ricans 46-24 in the paint.

"Hats off to Puerto Rico, they really threw everything at us and really wanted it, but I was just happy we found our rhythm in the fourth quarter," said Raincock-Ekunwe. "In the first three quarters we struggled to get any flow."

"We had the size advantage, and we really focused on putting the ball inside the paint and that's how we were able to gain a bit of a lead in the fourth quarter."

Puerto Rico may be 20 spots lower in the world rankings, but it put up a scrappy effort and hung in tough against Canada.

Canada held a slim 16-15 lead after the opening quarter and led by just six at the half. Scott and Sami Hill drained two threes late in the first half to give Canada a 33-27 lead.

Raincock-Ekunwe took over the game in the second half, scoring 22 of her 27 points. She controlled the game in the paint and even stepped out and drained a three-pointer as part of a 7-0 run to give Canada its biggest lead of the game.

Jennifer O'Neill led Puerto Rico with 21 points.

Jazmon Gwathmey scored 16, including a tough running jumper in the final minute to close cut Canada's lead to just two points.

"It was a real tough one, but we need those games, and I'm so glad we got one of them here," said Canada's coach Lisa Thomaidis. "That's going to be so important for us going forward.

"We had some girls really step up tonight, but you have to give full credit to Puerto Rico, they made some real tough shots fading with defenders in their face. They made it tough on us."

After blowing out Cuba 110-53 in the tournament opener, Canada had to rely on every ounce of their depth to earn the win over Puerto Rico.

"Puerto Rico came out strong and it was a bit of a punch in the face at half time," said Achonwa. "They challenged us a team and what our identity is and who we are as a team, and I think you saw more of that in the second half.

"It's a great learning experience for us. We got the win at the end of the day, but we have some things to grow and learn from."

Thomaidis was pleased to see Raincock-Ekunwe lead the way for Canada.

"It was great to see. We have so much belief in her. We know she's capable of doing that, and I hope she can really gain some confidence from that performance.

"She's an amazing athlete and you could see it on display."

NOTES: Canada's bench outscored Puerto Rico 30-17. Canada also dominated the second-chance points 14-4. ... Canada wraps up the tournament on Sunday against the Dominican Republic (0-2).

Jason Hills, The Canadian Press

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