BANGKOK (FIBA U19 World Championship for Women) - If Canada's entry into the semifinals in the Thai capital is one of the surprise success stories, Natalie Achonwa is undoubtedly the leading star.
The 16-year-old who has scored in double-digits in almost every game so far, led the scoring for the team with 16 points - to take her average to 12.3PPG - as Canada stunned Australia 50-49 in the quarterfinals on Friday.
S Mageshwaran of FIBA.com caught up with the Canadian National Elite Development Academy trainee after the win.
Canada have made the semifinals for the first time. Your first thoughts?
It's exciting. We are all still overwhelmed.
The first day we were in the gym here, a flake of confetti fell from the ceiling. It looked like gold. Our coach picked it up and said 'Guys, this is what I want.'
My heart is still beating as hard as it was when the buzzer went.
Australia were red hot in their winning spree and you were almost written off by many before the game. What was running in your team's mind before the game?
We knew we had been through a tough pool and made it to the quarterfinals. We had our ups and downs, but we had braved it through.
We had had some tough wins and some tough losses and we just wanted to keep it tough.
We wanted to go through to the semifinals, no matter what we had to do, through them, around them or over them.
Also we believed that they (Australia) were coming from what we thought was the easier of the pools. And this was the hardest game for them so far.
We, on the other hand, were ready from facing those hard teams coming up here. And it was just a regular game for us.
For them, they had to take a step up, because they had played easier teams. But it was fluent for us.
How was it defending a 203-cm player?
(Heaves a sigh). We tried our best. She still had 20-plus points, but we thought we contained her as much as possible and it got us through.
Everyday, no matter what team it, no matter who it is, we come in with the tactic to stop the opponents' key player.
We have a pre-practice, we have a walk through, we have our video analysis everything prepared to go for their key player. And once we contained her, we could work on the other shooters and we executed the plans really well.
What do you think has been the key to your progress?
I think our team chemistry has been fantastic.
There was one point, when we almost came apart. And we all just said 'C'mon guys. We're all in it together. We came in it together and we need to finish it together. There was no point playing one-on-one and we have to play five-on-five.'
How is it playing together with players like Kayla Alexander?
Not just Kayla. But even the rest of the team.
I've been playing with a lot of them since I started playing basketball. And it's just regular for us.
We all love each other, on as well as off the court.
I think it's a lot easier we connect so well off the court. We just come in together and try our best and we have succeeded in what we wanted to do.
Two days ago, it was a pleasant surprise Canada made the quarterfinals. Today, you are in the semis. What are your thoughts for the semis?
We'll try our best like we did today. We just want to be in that gold medal game.
We can only go up from here. We can't go down.