Aug. 7, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Fueled by a series of solid outings from Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic), the Canadian women's basketball team finished up a landmark performance at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, reaching the quarterfinal round for the first time in 28 years in what was that nation's first Olympic appearance since 2000.
Achonwa (pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh), the second-youngest women's basketball player at this year's Olympics at age 19 (and a mere 42 days older than Angola's Ana Goncalves), came off the bench in all six games for Canada, averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. She also ranked among the top four on the Canadian roster in rebounds (second), assists (third), steals (third - 0.8 spg.), field goal percentage (third - .385) and points (fourth), while posting double-figure scoring efforts against Group B winner France (14 points, game-high eight rebounds) and the world's sixth-ranked team, Brazil (11 points) during the preliminary round.
Canada went 2-4 during the London Olympics, defeating host Great Britain (73-65) and Brazil (79-73), with the latter victory earning the Canadians their first spot in the Olympic quarterfinals since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when they placed fourth in a six-team tournament that was significantly affected by the Soviet-led boycott. Canada saw its Olympic journey come to an end on Tuesday with a 91-48 loss to the four-time defending gold medalist United States at the Olympic Basketball Arena in London.
Achonwa is expected to be one of the cornerstones for the Canadian Senior Women's National Team in the coming years, with that program's next major tournament appearance set for September 2013, when it competes in the FIBA Americas Championship (exact dates and site to be determined) in an attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championships that will be held in Turkey. Canada won the gold medal at the 1995 FIBA Americas Championship, and has earned the bronze medal at five of the past seven tournaments, including 2009 in Brazil (when Achonwa averaged 6.6 ppg. and 4.2 rpg. in her first tournament with the Senior National Team at age 16) and 2011 in Colombia (Achonwa did not participate as the tournament conflicted with the fall semester at Notre Dame).
Achonwa now returns to South Bend to begin preparing for her junior season at Notre Dame, after averaging a career-high 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with a .557 field goal percentage in 2011-12 and helping the Fighting Irish to their second consecutive NCAA national championship game appearance. As one of Notre Dame's top reserves last year, she scored in double figures 10 times, including a career-best 20 points at Creighton on Dec. 4, and a critical 18-point, seven-rebound performance in Notre Dame's 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final on March 27 in Raleigh, N.C.
In her two-year career, Achonwa is averaging 7.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with a .561 field goal percentage, which would rank as the sixth-best career shooting ratio in school history (she needs eight more field goal attempts to qualify).
Achonwa is the first of three Notre Dame women's basketball players who will be representing her country on the international stage this month. Freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) will suit up for the United States Under-18 National Team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship Aug. 15-19 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, while senior All-America guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) also will compete for the United States at the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championships Aug. 23-26 in Athens, Greece. Mabrey already is in Colorado Springs, Colo., training with the U18 squad at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC), while Diggins will be in Colorado Aug. 17-20 to begin practicing for the 3x3 tournament.
In the fall, Achonwa, Mabrey and Diggins will be part of a Notre Dame program that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that includes Mabrey and was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.
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