TORONTO -- Despite a strong effort by Team USA with four scorers who each reached double-digits, Canada won the women’s basketball gold-medal game, 81-73, at the 2015 Pan American Games Monday night in Toronto.
Led by Kia Nurse, who scored a game-high 33 points, the host nation won its first ever women’s basketball Pan Ams gold medal.
“She was unbelievable,” U.S. forward Breanna Stewart said of her collegiate teammate. “That’s what she does. She put Canada on her back tonight and led them to this win. From start to finish she was going and we didn’t really have an answer for her.”
Team USA started the game out aggressively, driving to the hoop and getting the ball inside in the first quarter as Stewart and Moriah Jefferson pushed the advantage out to 10 off of a 15-4 run to lead 23-13.
Then Nurse caught fire, scoring 12 of her 17 first-half points in the second quarter as the Canadians erased the deficit, tied the game up at halftime, 36-36, and never took their foot off the gas.
“Their zone really hurt us,” head coach Lisa Bluder said about Canada’s extended 2-3 zone defense. “It’s a little deeper 3-point line than we’re used to as collegians, so that hurt us a little bit. They were spreading the zone out to protect the 3-point shot. We still couldn’t get the ball inside.”
Canada and Nurse dominated the third quarter, taking advantage of Team USA’s inability to shoot from behind the arc and frustrating the guards’ abilities to make it to the basket. The bleeding finally stopped after an Alaina Coates and-1, but the deficit was 18 – the largest of the game.
Stewart and Linnae Harper, who ended up with 17 and 16 points, respectively, managed to cut the Canadian lead down to five with 4:22 remaining in the game, but Nurse, who shot 10 of 17 from the floor, stayed consistent to close out the game.
“We tried our best, we tried to come back as a team, but it fell short,” Harper said of the eight-point loss. “We wanted to get gold, but silver’s not bad and it was a great experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, and I had a great time.”
The closest Canada has come to women’s basketball gold in the 60 years the sport has been on the Pan Ams program was in 1999 when Cuba and Canada reached the gold-medal game, with the latter taking the silver medal on home soil in Winnipeg. For Team USA, the silver medal is an improvement off of the seventh-place performance at the 2011 Pan American Games.
“It’s an honor to coach Team USA and even though we didn’t get the gold, I’m proud of the effort,” Bluder said. “We came out ready to play today, our kids were focused. This has been a tough journey for us; we’ve had a lot of adversity.”