Oh… Canada! The United States Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Falls 67-64 in Gold Medal Match, wins Silver

SAN LUIS —  Go to Lima 2019 Parapan American Games. Check. Go Undefeated. Check. Win by large amounts over all competitors so far. Check. Stamp your ticket to Tokyo 2020. Check. Beat Canada in the finals? 

Well, there was one thing that went unchecked so far for the United States Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team on their to-do list, and the United States wasn’t about to let that list stay unfinished… or were they?

The match started with the girls of the stars and stripes getting three offensive rebounds before the first points of the game by Lindsey Zorbrugg, who with Rebecca Murray, picked up right where they left off against Argentina. They were the top two scorers in the game for the USA. The United States would go on a 8-2 run to start the game, before Team Canada called a very early time out in the first quarter.

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Rebecca Murray has the ball in the first quarter of play vs. Canada on August 30, 2019.(PHOTO CREDIT: Shannon Galea)

Overall, in the first quarter, it was good old-fashioned Canadian defense vs. the unique rebounding ability of Team USA on the offensive and defensive glass. The problem for Team USA in the first quarter is that after the strong start, they just couldn’t turn those rebounds into points and the Canadians with their possessions did. After the first period, it was the closest game that Team USA had played, being on the leading side only by five, 16-11.

The start of the second quarter was a sticky situation for the U.S. thanks to the representatives from the maple leaf contingency. Team USA went back and forth with Canada and the lead got tight to within one possession, but Murray fought to keep Team USA ahead, as she single-handedly widened the margin to nine with 5:30 left in the first half. 

As a credit to Canada’s defense, the red and white held Team USA and made the United States obtain two shot clock violations in the first half. 

Things were flat out frustrating for the U.S. in the first half as #15 Rose Hollerman sent Canada to the line for an unsportsmanlike technical foul. Both shots would flush the net.

Later, after a Team USA miss, the Canadians banked in a basket to go within three. Then they clawed to within one. The United States called time-out with 2:09 left in the first half of play. 

Then it happened with 1:17 left in the second quarter, the United States and Canada were stuck together at 28.  This is the first time this has happened for Team USA all tournament. It got worse for the United States, with 42.5 left, they fouled shooter Kathleen Dandeneau, sending her to the line allowing Canada to take their first lead of the game with the score of 31-30. However, the United States would get lifted via a field goal to a one point lead 32-31 at the half.

When they came back out on the floor from the locker room, instead of the shoot-around at halftime, Trooper Johnson, the coach of the United States Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team huddled his troops around in a circle and had a 2 minute conversation with his team. 

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Team USA coach Trooper Johnson tries to rally the troops during halftime of the Finals match vs. Canada on August 30, 2019. (PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine)

“I think what we talked about in there was just discipline and making our switches and making sure that we’re relaxed in certain situations. Making sure that we all understood each other.” Coach Johnson continued, “I told them these are the games that we want.  You want these tough games. They test you as a player, they test you as a team, and it’s worth more when it’s a tight game when you can embrace it.”

Finally, the team started to warm up and you could see the looks on the two teams faces and looks from their actions. For Team Canada they were ecstatic to find the hole in the opponent’s game plan, but for Team USA, the looks were that of a calm, focused and collected squad. 

This was it, the final twenty minutes of play in Lima 2019. And it started with the USA having the ball and Abigail Dunkin getting an early layup putting the United States back up by three. 

A mental mistake with 8:30 left in the third when the USA committed an inbound violation, the result was Canada taking a two point lead on an all too easy layup 36-38. The United States was now feeling the pressure and took a timeout.

It was a boxing match, blow by blow, back and forth for these two titans from North America.

Just as they pulled away, the United States committed another unsportsmanlike penalty. At the line was once again Kathleen Dandeneau, who sank one of two free throws, but it brought Canada within three of the United States. 

Team USA would keep a lead, though slim going into the fourth quarter 42-47.

Canada would get the ball and score first in the fourth quarter with Dandeneau getting the quick field goal to bring the Canadian team within three. Then Arinn Young of Canada nailed one from Machu Pichu to draw the score even. 

USA had taken a quick lead by two, but Dandeneau could not be stopped, she once again tied the game with 6:25 to go in the match. This one was too hot to handle for Team USA so they took the timeout to regroup.

The United States just could not get a rhythm going. They couldn’t get rebounds. They were heavily pressed. Canada was here on a mission to slam the stop button on Team USA and so far it was working. 

It was Dandeneau and Team Canada’s time, they believed, and she would accentuate that point more than with a three ball from a foot behind the top of the arc. The score with 3:01 left in the game was now 63-58, the largest deficit for the United States in the Lima 2019 tournament.  

After two clutch free throws by Zurbrugg for Team USA with 1:44 to go, the States got on the boards like it was no one’s business. A key defensive stop and a field goal led to the USA being down by three.

They were up 67-64 when at the last second, Lindsey Zurbrugg put up a last ditch three. It rattled off both ends of the rim as time expired. 

Canada had done it. They beat the United States. In an amazing upset.

For Team USA, it was a bittersweet, learning experience tonight as they obtained the silver medal. 

“So much of the girls know that it’s a process. Our goal to do here was to qualify for Tokyo and now we are going to keep that process going,” commented Murray of Team USA.

Murray led all United States scorers with 22 points, four rebounds and one assist. She continued about her play, 

“I just do what’s needed to be done. Me and one other of my teammates are the shooters on the team, so we just pass to each other and try from there. We mostly just shoot from the outside and we were just doing what was created for me during the game.”

For Team Canada, it was a night that Kathleen Dandeneau, who had a triple-double with 25 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, would never forget.

“Well, for one we knew what the stakes were. We had to come out and play because they are an amazing team, We had to try and take their shooters away. It was a little slow at the start, ” Dandeneau continued, “We knew what we needed to do and then we refocused and made them take some shots that they didn’t want to do,  and we got them a little off, and that’s what we needed to do.” 

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Canada’s Elodie Tessier (RIGHT) and Kathleen Dandeneau embrace with joy following winning a gold medal for Canada vs. United States in Women’s Wheelchair Basketball on August 30, 2019. (PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine)

When asked about the 3-point dagger to Team USA,  Dandeneau recalled, 

“Honestly, I just saw them drop off of me, this is my shot, I love threes . I pulled it and it was really nice.”

No matter what happens, Team USA is not going to away silently as they will see Canada in Tokyo 2020, one year from now.

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