MacKinnon: Canada’s focus shifts to final round-robin game with Cuba

 

Host team has prepared for key matchup with three blowout wins

 
 
 
 
Miah-Marie Langlois of Canada sets up for a shot under the hoop against Yamel Abreu of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
 
 

Miah-Marie Langlois of Canada sets up for a shot under the hoop against Yamel Abreu of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

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EDMONTON - All right, bring on Cuba.

Team Canada’s players obviously weren’t kidding about being ready for the FIBA Americas Women’s Championship. Canada demolished the Dominican Republic 111-36 on Tuesday night, running its won-lost record to 3-0 in Group A of the 10-team, 24-game Olympic qualifying basketball tournament.

The final round-robin piece for Canada is a first-place showdown with 2-0 Cuba at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Canada has Wednesday off, while Cuba plays against Chile, 1-1.

Three straight blowouts might not be the best preparation for a basketball power like Cuba, but Canada believes it has worked its plan as best as it could under the circumstances.

“What we’ve been trying to do these last three games is taking something from each game and trying to work on it,” said Edmonton’s Michelle Plouffe, who scored five points and added six rebounds for Canada. “It’s tough to play these games, but we really try to focus on things that we’ll see against Cuba.

“We mixed up our defence a little bit today to try to simulate what we would do against Cuba, stuff like that. We just have to focus in on a few key things and get ready for Thursday.”

Defence worked fine against the Dominican Republic, which was held to seven points in the first quarter, 12 in the second and eight and nine in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.

Canada led 23-7 after the first quarter and 58-19 at halftime en route to its most lopsided victory so far. Six Canadians hit double figures, led by Miranda Ayim’s 15 points and 13 by Nirra Fields. Natalie Achonwa chipped in with 12 while Kia Nurse and Lizanne Murphy both had 11. Canada outrebounded the Dominicans 53-20.

In every way, a loose, confident and focused Team Canada put on a show for the roughly 2,000 fans at the Saville Community Sports Centre. All of which is preparation for the Cubans. Do things get real, all of a sudden?

“Very much so,” Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “We know what’s ahead and the matchups we’re potentially going to have and the meaningfulness of the upcoming game.

“So certainly there’s a sense of urgency and seriousness to what’s going to take place.”

Cuba has so far delivered a pair of workmanlike performances, an 83-44 dismissal of the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly close 65-58 victory Tuesday over a pesky Puerto Rico team that hung around all game against the bigger, more skilled Cubans.

Canada and Cuba have a developing basketball history. At the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament, Canada defeated Cuba in the semifinal, then lost to Cuba in the final. Canada narrowly defeated Cuba 71-68 at the Pan American Games in Toronto last month.

And here we go again.

Even at 19, guard Nurse has already been a significant part of the Canada-Cuba history. Have she and her teammates developed a healthy dislike for their rivals?

“I wouldn’t say dislike them,” Nurse said. “But a rivalry is always fun to have, too.”

Canada did its best, in all three games so far, to stay on task, to work their pass-happy Princeton offence, possession after possession, determined not to play down to the level of the competition.

But is that really useful preparation to face a strong opponent like Cuba?

“I guess it’s better to sort of warm up to Cuba than have them be the first game, maybe. Just to get the nerves out of the way, we’re playing at home,” said Shona Thorburn. “Maybe in that regard, it’s nice.

“I think these game also show things that we need to work on and we corrected those things.”

Given the recent history between the teams, Canada has considerable respect for Cuba, but the Canadians do want to impose their will on their rivals and as early as possible.

“They’re a tough team,” Plouffe said. “Every time we play them, it’s close.

“It doesn’t matter what our rankings are in the world, it’s always a tough game. They’re just a really physical team and they play hard. They have speed and physicality. It’s up to us to match that and use it against them, read what they’re overplaying and stuff like that.

“If we can make those reads early, it will be a lot easier, it will open a lot more things up for us.”

As for dialing up their game for a tougher opponent, Thomaidis and her players seemed more anxious to get at the more meaningful game than anything. They have known all along that to come out of the tournament with a berth to the 2016 Summer Olymics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they were going to have to deal with Cuba.

“The team is playing well,” Thomaidis said. “I think we have a lot of people playing well and our confidence is high.

“I don’t think there is too much we have to do differently, other than to prepare the game plan as best we can and execute it going into that Cuba game.

“They know the level of importance (that’s) coming up here. There’s no need to reiterate it anymore. It’s been on everyone’s mind for a long time.”

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox

 
 
 
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Miah-Marie Langlois of Canada sets up for a shot under the hoop against Yamel Abreu of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
 

Miah-Marie Langlois of Canada sets up for a shot under the hoop against Yamel Abreu of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

 
Miah-Marie Langlois of Canada sets up for a shot under the hoop against Yamel Abreu of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Genesis Evangelista of Dominican Republic drives on Miranda Ayim of Canada during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Miranda Ayim of Canada drives past Viviana Beltre of Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Viviana Beltre of the Dominican Republic fights for the ball with Miranda Ayim of Canada during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Canada’s Miah-Marie Langlois and Dominican Republic’s Genesis Evangelista battle over a rebound during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Natalie Achonwa of Canada goes up for an easy two points against Genesis Evangelista of the Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Andreina Paniagua of the Dominican Republic fouls Canada’s Kia Nurse during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Genesis Evangelist of the Dominican Republic drives against Canada’s Kia Nurse of Canada during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Canada’s Katherine Plouffe pushes the ball out of the hands of Viviana Soto of the Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Lizanne Murphy of Canada makes a pass against Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Kia Nurse of Canada drives for an easy lay-up against the Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Canada’s Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Miah-Marie Langlois celebrate after defeating the Dominican Republic 111-36 in a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Nirra Fields of Canada goes up for a layup after driving past Juladyy Zapata of the  Dominican Republic during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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