TORONTO (2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship) - The big tournament that Canada has circled on its calendar is the FIBA Americas Women's Championship in Edmonton.
It will be staged 9-16 August, and the winner will clinch a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Games while the sides that finish second, third and fourth will earn tickets to the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT).
The Pan American Games, though, have created a huge buzz in Toronto because on Monday, Canada will square off against the United States in the Gold Medal Game.
The USA punched their ticket to the Final with a 65-64 triumph over Cuba and Canada made it when they romped to a 91-63 victory over Brazil in the other Semi-Final.
Cuba, the winners of the FIBA Americas Women's Championship two years ago, will be kicking themselves after their defeat to the USA because the Caribbean team led by as many as 14 points in the third quarter.
After the USA battled back with a full-court press, Cuba looked as if they might just get a narrow win when taking a 64-63 lead after a steal and a layup with just 13 seconds remaining.
I think we really deserve it. We’ve worked really hard. -Harper
The USA's Linnae Harper had other ideas.
She was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both free throws with 7.7 seconds left to put the USA back in front.
"All I could really think about was my teammates," Harper said.
"We've put in so much work for three weeks, every day, just trying to get better and fight for a gold.
"I just wanted to do it for everybody and for the coaching staff."
Harper then iced the victory for the Americans with her defense.
Cuba's Oyanaisy Gelis, who shone for her country at the World Championship last year, attacked the rim but Harper stole the ball and time expired.
In Canada's big win, Nirra Fields led a balanced scoring attack with 15 points.
Now comes a Final that represents a dream opportunity for the Canadians since they are on home soil.
Trying to continue the momentum in women's basketball in the country that has been building since 2012 when they qualified for the Olympics and then reached the Quarter-Finals, Canada will take on an American side that is not as powerful as the 2014 FIBA Women's World Championship-winning side.
It is nevertheless a strong one that has a member of that world champions, Breanna Stewart, as one of its protagonists.
Adding extra spice to the showdown is that Stewart is a teammate of Canada guard Kia Nurse at the University of Connecticut, the team that won the NCAA title earlier this year.
"If we can come out firing and get some confidence and get the crowd into it, it always helps us out," Nurse said.
"It's always a fun game when you get to play the Americans. It'll be a good one."
The USA, who clinched a spot at next year's Olympics when they went unbeaten at the World Championship last year in Turkey, will not send a team to Edmonton so Monday's title tilt will be the big meeting between the sides this year.
"We're really looking forward to the opportunity, a chance to be in the gold medal game in Toronto on home soil," Thomaidis said.
"It's just a dream come true for all of us. I'm sure it will be an emotional time for us and we'll be riding high and looking forward to playing them."
Brazil and Cuba will square off in the Bronze Medal Game.
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