TOKYO — Canada features as many Minnesota Lynx players as the United States — two.
Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa are two of Canada's starters, two of their better players. Theoretically, they are in Tokyo sharing the Olympic experience with their WNBA teammates.
"I saw Phee once, from a distance,'' Carleton said. "I haven't seen Cheryl or Syl. But I'm cheering them on from afar.''
Just how far will be answered on Monday in Tokyo. On Sunday morning in Japan, Canada fell to Spain in the last game of pool play, 76-66, at the Saitama Super Arena.
Canada fell to 1-2, third in its group. The top two teams from each of the three groups qualify for the quarterfinals, plus two wild cards. Team Canada will learn its fate while watching television on Monday.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is an assistant with Team USA, which features Lynx players Napheesa "Phee'' Collier and Sylvia "Syl" Fowles. Team USA is so talented that Collier and Fowles, both WNBA All-Stars, come off the bench and Collier barely plays.
Carleton and Achonwa are Lynx reserves who are vital to Canada's chances. Sunday, both started slowly, as did their team. Both were instrumental in Canada's comeback attempt, and both struggled, like their team, at the beginning of Spain's third-quarter run that all but put the game away.
Carleton scored nine points and added six rebounds, four assists and two steals. She was also one of Canada's strongest defenders.
Achonwa produced 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Spain opened an early lead by beating Canada on backdoor cuts for easy layups. Canada had to work harder to get open shots, but cut a 12-point deficit to six at the half.
Then Spain opened the third quarter with a 16-2 run, scoring at will as Canada looked uncertain on offense.
"Our defense," Achonwa said, shaking her head. "It started out that way in the first and third quarters, we didn't have that kind of defensive intensity that Canada is used to, and Spain took full advantage of that. That's what we're known for — being a defensive team."
Canada has outscored its opponents by seven. To reach the quarterfinals, it will need to be better than one of the other two third-place teams. France is plus-21. Australia is minus-17. So Canada could advance.
"I'm just hoping and praying and hopefully we can sneak in and refocus and use this game to better ourselves," Carleton said. "We'll probably be watching the scores pretty closely, because otherwise we won't have to prepare. Hopefully, we do have to prepare."
Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis was asked to assess the play of her two Lynx.
"They're tremendous members of our program, terrific leaders on our national team," she said. "They bring a lot of leadership and a lot of skill to the table. They've had some great games here, and for Bridget to be a first-time Olympian, she's done really well.
"Great people, great teammates. We're lucky to have them."
The "Olympic experience" in Tokyo includes not only COVID protocols, but a strange game-day experience. Basketball is played at the Saitama Super Arena, one of the largest arenas in the world, and its size highlights the lack of fans present.
For their last two games, Canada has woken at 5 a.m. for the hour bus ride to the arena and 10 a.m. tipoffs.
"It's been amazing, obviously, a dream come true to be here, even with COVID and the protocols that have been in place," Carleton said. "It's been a great experience to be here with my teammates."
When was the last time she had to ride a bus at 7:15 a.m. for a game? "We usually practice at 10 [a.m.] in the WNBA," she said. "That's pretty standard. A bus ride that's an hour long is a little bit different. But you've just got to adjust. No excuses."
Defending the backdoor cut was a bigger problem for Canada than the bus ride.