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Canada’s Nurse helps lift Sparks past Storm in WNBA pre-season action in Edmonton

Canadian Kia Nurse had some nerves entering Saturday’s WNBA pre-season contest at Rogers Place.

The Hamilton native and Canadian national team star had nine points in 19 minutes of action as her Los Angeles Sparks held on to beat the Seattle Storm 84-79 in front of 16,655 fans.

“I was nervous before, in all honesty,” Nurse said. “That’s a lot people, and I spent a lot of time building my career here in Canada, from the jump all the way through high school. And to be in an arena that is filled for a WNBA game on Canadian soil is not something you put on your dream board as a kid.

“So to be in this situation now, to see how things have changed, and how it’s propelling women’s sports forward, and particularly in Canada, it’s really, really special.”

As the only Canadian on the floor, Nurse received the loudest roar during pre-game introductions. She gave a short pre-game speech to the crowd before the game.

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Sparks coach Curt Miller said his team called a set play right off the jump ball that would try to get the ball in Nurse’s hands so she could score the first points of the game. While Nurse missed from three-point range, he said the way she handled the pressure was special.

Click to play video: 'Toronto billionaire pushing for WNBA team'
Toronto billionaire pushing for WNBA team

“I’m just really proud of her,” said Miller. “I’m unbelievably connected with their family. Kia looked confident. We ran the first play because we wanted her to score the first basket here in Canada.

“I know it was such an emotional night for her. It was truly special for her. She’s the face of their national team.”

It was the second straight season a WNBA exhibition game took place and sold out in Canada. Saturday’s contest followed a sellout game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena in 2023.

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Reports have said Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum aims to secure a Toronto franchise ahead of the 2025 season.

“Canada wants a WNBA team,” said Nurse. “That’s very evident. It’s been something they’ve been basically screaming at the top of their lungs for.”

Nurse’s sentiments were echoed by her American WNBA compatriots.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Storm guard Joyner Holmes, who finished with 13 points. “My journey’s a little different, I’ve been cut from teams. So to be adding teams and roster spots will help those who’ve had experiences like mine … And expanding to places like this? It’s going to be lit.”

“We’re adding Golden State next year, so we’re going to have 13 (teams),” said Skylar Diggins-Smith, who paced the Storm with 14 points and five assists. “So it would be nice to get to an even number of teams.”

Diggins-Smith said Storm players “were screaming our lungs out so we could communicate with each other.”

Dearica Hamby led the Sparks with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Cameron Brink, the No. 2 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, scored her first basket as a member of the Sparks halfway through the first quarter.

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Brink, who finished with 11 points, hit her first three-pointer 1:30 into the third quarter. The centre earned a large ovation for her rejection of Jade Melbourne’s layup attempt later in the second half.

With the Sparks leading 82-79 in the final minutes, the Storm had two chances to tie. But Melbourne air-balled her three-point attempt, and Kiana Williams’s three-point shot rimmed out.

Nia Clouden hit two late free throws to ice the game for Los Angeles.

On Saturday morning, the two teams conducted their shootarounds while the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers were on the ice at the Downtown Community Arena, which is part of the Rogers Place complex.

As Nurse saw the Oilers coming off the ice, they shared embraces. Her brother is Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse, who was courtside on Saturday night with his family.

Kia Nurse said Edmonton is a special place for her because it’s the home base for the Canadian women’s national team and is also an Oilers fan.

“This is a really special arena,” she said. “I’ve been able to see Darnell play quite a few games here and to be able to have him and his kids come to the game today, that’s really special because I don’t get to see them as often since they’re always here when I’m home and vice versa.”

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NOTES: The game began with a moment of silence for murdered and missing Indigenous women. Elder Myrna Yellowbird of the Samson Cree Nations offered a prayer. … The WNBA has played two other pre-season games outside of the United States, in Monterrey, Mexico (2004) and Manchester, England (2011).

Click to play video: 'WNBA game in Canada one part of the rise of women’s sports'
WNBA game in Canada one part of the rise of women’s sports

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