The Canadian women’s basketball team passed its first real test on the path to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday night.
Pulling away down the stretch in by far its closest game of the tournament, Canada beat Brazil 66-58 in the semifinals of the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Now riding in a 14-game winning streak against FIBA Americas teams, Canada will be going for a third straight AmeriCup title on Sunday night.
The win did not come without a significant cost, however. Kayla Alexander, the Milton centre who had been dominant through the first three games, suffered a leg injury and will miss Sunday’s final. Alexander had seven points and six rebounds Saturday before being injured.
And veteran guard Miah-Marie Langlois of Windsor lasted just about 13 minutes before she was injured and will miss the gold medal game as well.
With those absences, Canada got a huge game from Brampton’s Shay Colley, who made 12 of 15 free throws and finished with a game-high 23 points.
Canada held just a one-point lead with about 90 seconds left, but clutch baskets from Toronto’s Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Ruth Hamblin of Smithers, B.C., consecutive defensive stops and free throws by Colley and Sami Hill iced the game.
Bridget Carleton of Chatham and Raincock-Ekunwe each had nine points for Canada.
Canada will face United States, which beat Puerto Rico 78-54, in Sunday’s final. The Americans haven’t lost a world championship or Olympic game since 2006.
The AmeriCup is the first of a three-stage qualification process for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Canada has already qualified for a second FIBA Americas tournament that will be played in November in Edmonton, Canada Basketball officials announced Saturday.
Two teams from that four-country tournament will move on to a third and final event next February that will determine the Olympic field.
Canada, which had top-eight finishes in the last two Olympics, is ranked No. 5 in the world.
Edmonton has been the home base for the senior women’s team since early in the 2010s, and the 2015 FIBA Americas qualification tournament was played to large crowds at the city’s Saville Centre. The 2019 event will be played at the 3,500-capacity Edmonton EXPO Centre.