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Canadian women’s basketball team routes Venezuela to open Olympic pre-qualifying tournament

Laeticia Amihere led the way with 11 points and 11 rebounds as Canada thumped Venezuela 81-39 on Thursday in FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament action.

Cassandre Prosper, Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton each added 10 points, while Kayla Alexander chipped in another eight with 10 rebounds.

The opener also marked the return of forward Natalie Achonwa, who gave birth just six months ago and last competed for Canada at the 2022 World Cup. The Guelph, Ont., native went scoreless but helped with six rebounds, one steal and one block in 20 minutes off the bench.

“For me it was important today that the team competed like a Canada team,” said Canada head coach Victor Lapena. “[Like] a Canada team in the past, a Canada team in the AmeriCup, so I’m very happy, first of all, because Natalie Achonwa came back to the team today.

“We could play with Kia, Bridget, with Laeticia Amihere, with those who didn’t play in the AmeriCup, and the chemistry was good. We needed some minutes to address the team and get the feeling, and then everything was more fluent, we scored our threes, the team kept defending super aggressive.”

Mariana Duran paced Venezuela with 10 points.

The tournament consists of the four teams that finished between third and sixth place at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup back in July.

Canada concluded third at the AmeriCup after falling to the U.S. in the semifinals, before defeating Puerto Rico in the bronze-medal game.

The top two teams will qualify for one of the four respective FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournaments, which will take place in February. There are 10 remaining spots to be claimed for the Olympics, with the U.S. and France having already qualified.

Canada took its first double-digit lead, 15-4, on a pair of free throws from Alexander with 4:59 remaining in the opening quarter and never looked back.

The fifth-ranked Canadians were up 42-15 at halftime and 64-25 after three quarters. Canada shot 39.7 per cent from the field, while holding the 42nd-ranked Venezuelans to just 23 per cent shooting.

Canada is next set to face host Colombia on Friday in Medellín, followed by a matchup against Puerto Rico on the final day of the tournament on Sunday.

Steve Carr

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