Reinvigorated Canadian women’s basketball team aiming for World Cup podium
There hasn’t been much time for things to fall into place for Canada at the World Cup.
Grouped with the second, third and fourth places of the Olympic Games and under the tutelage of a new head coach in the person of Victor Lapeña, the Canadian women’s basketball team, ranked fourth, could have been forgiven for having counted the moral victories at the Australia tournament.
Instead, Canada picked up three straight wins to open the tournament, eventually finishing 4-1 to finish second in their pool.
Now, not only are the Canadians in the knockout stage, they are one win away from contesting their first medal at a major tournament since 1986.
Canada will next face 17th-ranked Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 12:30 a.m. ET. A win likely sets up a semi-final showdown against the American powerhouse on Friday.
« They don’t give up. They don’t rest on the pitch. When they rest on the pitch, it’s because they don’t realize it. As a coach, what can I ask for more? » Lapeña said after Canada beat Serbia in their opener.
« They work all the time and they have confidence in my work, in our [coaching staff]. When you play with your best, when you play with the maximum possibilities that you have, good things happen. We’re not perfect but we’re learning this process. »
WATCH | Canada beat Mali to complete the group stage:
Lapeña came to preach an updated philosophy on the pitch with a fluid attack and aggressive defense. But the exuberant Spaniard warned that the changes could lead, at least initially, to increased turnovers and fouls.
Expectations for the tournament, with star player Kia Nurse fresh from injury and minimal time with Lapeña, were held in check.
It turns out that Canada learned quickly. Their victory over Serbia was a revenge measure for a four-point loss in the opening of the Olympics. He then beat Japan, Olympic silver medalist, France, bronze medalist, as well as Mali, 37th.
Lapeña’s system also seems to work. Canada ranked in the middle of the pack in turnovers while posting the fourth-most steals of any team. Meanwhile, only Puerto Rico and the United States committed fewer fouls.
« I’m very proud of my players because we’re growing as a team, » Lapeña said after Japan’s win. « They have a lot of faith in me and the coaches and that means I can think about how we can win. [against] Japan does this, this and that, and they try to execute perfectly. »
Alexander, Carleton Main Track
Former WNBA center Kayla Alexander looked particularly rejuvenated in Lapeña’s system as one of only two players to average more than 10 rebounds per game in the group stage.
« I like his philosophy, especially in defence. I like that he challenges us. He makes me do things in defense that I don’t think I can normally do, » Alexander said after Canada’s 14-point win over France.
Bridget Carleton, who plays with team captain Natalie Achonwa on the Minnesota Lynx, also continued her strong international game since the Olympics.
After struggling for a one-on-14 shootout match against France, the 25-year-old found her stroke and hit over 50% of her goals from the field, including a 12-for-19 mark from deep, over the last three. Games.
« She was always explosive, » Achonwa said. « She’s always been a shooter and a scorer, but she really embraced this moment and our need for her to fill that role. And I’m glad the world can see as well, who I’ve known Bridget Carleton has been all this time. »
WATCH | Carleton propels Canada ahead of Japan:
Nurse, playing his first competitive games since the 2021 WNBA Playoffs with a restriction of around 20 minutes per game, looks fearless and relatively explosive.
The Hamilton, Ont., native averaged nine points per game while shooting just over 40%.
Puerto Rico next
Attention now turns to a spirited Puerto Rico side, who finished 2-3, including a narrow three-point loss to fifth-placed Belgium.
Puerto Rico eliminated Canada from the AmeriCup semifinals last year, although that Canadian team was missing its WNBA players and included Miranda Ayim and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, now retired.
A key for Canada will be limiting shooting guard Arella Guirantes, who tied American WNBA MVP A’Ja Wilson as the leading scorer per game in the group stage.
Still, Canada should be favoured.
« It’s very different playing against Puerto Rico, with all due respect, than playing against the United States, » Lapeña said. « USA are playing in a different tournament, on another planet. They are playing Space Jam. »
After their strong group stage, Canada now have the opportunity to soar into a whole new stratosphere.