RIO DE JANEIRO — Canadian women's basketball coach Lisa Thomaidis wants to ease Kia Nurse back into the lineup at the Rio Olympics after the star guard underwent sports hernia surgery last May.
It's a lot easier to do when you get such a strong effort from the other 11 players on the team.
Tamara Tatham led the way with 20 points and Kim Gaucher had a team-high 10 rebounds as Canada opened the preliminary round Saturday with a strong 90-68 win over China at Youth Arena.
"I looked at the stat sheet and it had 41 points off the bench. I think that kind of sums it up,'' Thomaidis said. "When you get almost half your points from the bench, it shows our depth. It came through tonight because we could just roll people in and different threats were on the floor at different times.''
Canada's head coach Lisa Thomaidis talks to her team as they play China's in preliminary round of women's basketball action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Gaucher, the team captain from Mission, B.C., also had a team-high seven assists. Canada took a 60-46 lead into the fourth period and a quick 12-0 run put the game out of reach.
"We cleaned it up pretty quickly and then we ran away with it in the second half,'' said Tatham, from Brampton, Ont. "So we're really happy about that.''
Thomaidis worked every player into the game by the second minute of the second period.
"We believe in every single player that we have,'' she said. "All 12 of them can go in and give us something. So it was great to see that expressed today.''
"We believe in every single player that we have."
Early jitters appeared to be a factor as Canada missed its first six field-goal attempts. Miranda Ayim of London, Ont., finally put Canada on the board with a smooth fadeaway jumper.
Nurse came in off the bench and helped Canada get on track. The University of Connecticut standout used her quick first step to flummox the Chinese defence before finding Shona Thorburn of Hamilton for an open three and a 14-7 Canada lead.
Nurse, also from Hamilton, had five points and four assists in 17 minutes. She started practising with the national team a few weeks ago and saw some exhibition action in the leadup to Rio.
She makes sure to warm up properly and then feels comfortable going full tilt on the floor.
"I don't feel the pain,'' she said. "I'm a pretty tough kid so I don't feel a lot of pain anymore.''
Thomaidis was keeping a close eye on her minutes. She doesn't want Nurse or anyone else to be overused in the early going of what could be a long tournament.
Canada's Kia Nurse attempts a shot around China's Di Wu during the preliminary round of women's basketball action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
"We're being aware of that and cognizant of that,'' she said. "She's an amazing athlete and she's still kind of getting back into the flow. We certainly don't want to burn her out in Game 1.
"Just let her come back into the flow at her own pace instead of being thrown back in.''
Guard Zhifang Zhao provided some spark for China late in the first half, converting a three-point play to cut Canada's lead to eight points. However, Miah-Marie Langlois of Windsor, Ont., answered with two three-pointers to help give Canada a 37-26 halftime lead.
Canada kept up the pressure in the third period as Tatham and Langlois hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend the lead to 43-29.
Canada outscored China in each of the four periods and had a 31-14 edge in assists. Canada also held a 44-31 advantage on the boards.
"That's exactly what you think you're going to get with Canada,'' said China coach Thomas Maher. "Their individuals, their teamwork, their hardness, their toughness.
Canada celebrates as they play China during the preliminary round of women's basketball action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
"They've got a high basketball IQ and they're a very good passing team and they're very physically tough.''
Canada shot at a 50 per cent clip overall and was a strong 65 per cent from beyond the arc. China was at 38 per cent from the field and 39 per cent from distance.
"A great way to start, I couldn't be happier,'' Thomaidis said. "There are still some things to shore up at the defensive end but we're feeling good moving forward.''
There were pockets of fans from both countries in the 5,000-seat venue, which was about half-full for the matinee.
China is eighth in the FIBA world rankings, one position higher than Canada. However, the rankings are not updated frequently and do not include all tournaments.
Canada celebrates a win over China in the preliminary round of women's basketball action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
China is actually in a rebuilding stage with nine of its 12 players making their Olympic debut.
The Canadians, meanwhile, finished fifth at the world championship in 2014.
Canada won gold at last year's Pan Am Games in Toronto and that same roster is back for the Olympics. The lineup also includes seven players who reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 Games in London.
The United States, Spain, Serbia and Senegal are the other teams in Canada's group. The rest of the field includes France, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Belarus and Japan.
Canada, which has never reached the Olympic podium in women's basketball, will play Serbia on Monday.
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