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Canada cruises past Chile on the Rock; 9-2 in World Cup Qualifiers

Canada 85, Chile 46 | Box Score

In a night that probably featured more Great Big Sea than all other qualifiers combined, the 8-2 Canadians jumped on the 2-8 Chileans early and never looked back in what was Team Canada’s first appearance in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1984. The game continued the burgeoning basketball resurgence in the community that former national team veteran Carl English started last fall by returning home to play for the St. John’s Edge in their inaugural NBLC season.

As for the game, Canada came out with an eye on capitalizing on their size advantage, starting an oversized lineup of Phil Scrubb, Aaron Best, Melvin Ejim, Thomas Scrubb, and Kyle Landry (although Landry received the Keith Bogans, checking out for the rest of the half four minutes in). The supersized lineup and full-court pressure the Canadians applied flustered the Chilean side as they struggled to create any reliable offense in the game’s opening minutes allowing Canada to jump out to an early 4-0 lead. However, Chile answered with a three and got to the rim twice to go up 7-4, forcing Canada Head Coach, Roy Rana, to insert veteran Joel Anthony to protect the rim. Anthony’s presence supercharged Canada’s defense as they surrendered only a single basket the rest of the quarter. Shortly after Anthony’s insertion, the lid came off the rim for Canada as reserves Brady Heslip and Kaza Kajami-Keane both hit three’s during a 9-2 Canada run that gave them a 16-9 lead to end the first.

“We came in and brought a little bit of energy,” said Brady Heslip on his, Kajami-Keane, Joel Anthony and Kyle Wiltjer’s contributions to the first quarter run, continuing “We changed the tempo, started making some more shots and it changed the game.”

Unfortunately, that energy was shortlived as the second quarter followed the same theme as the first, with Canada outplaying their opponents, but not to the extent they were capable of. After a Wiltjer block sparked a fastbreak that led to a Wiltjer lay-in that stretched the lead to 16, it appeared as though the floodgates were about to open. Not to be outdone, Chile hung as tight as they could, patiently playing out each offensive possession waiting until Canada’s aggressive pressure overextended itself for a moment and created an opportunity to attack. Ultimately, the 34-21 lead Canada took into the break felt at least 10 points closer than it should have been.

“In the first half, we weren’t as intense as we needed to be. We didn’t play with enough energy,” said Heslip.

Rana decided to change things up to spark his squad in the second half, starting Anthony, Witjler, and Heslip in place of Landry, Ejim, and Best. The move immediately paid dividends as Canada began the half on a 13-3 run with eight of those points delivered in under a minute by the sharpshooter, Heslip. From that point, the route was on. Canada played with a heightened sense of urgency, pushing the pace every chance it got and capitalizing on each odd-man break.

On Rana’s message that sparked the team during halftime, Heslip said “He reminded the guys you only get so many opportunities to play in front of Canadian fans. So we didn’t want to let them down and not play with energy.”

Chile didn’t go away without a fight though, maintaining their physicality and intensity despite the score getting away from them. The Chilean bench even picked up two technicals in under a minute late in the third for complaining about no-calls despite trailing by almost 30 at the time.

The fourth quarter was merely a formality as Canada entered the frame leading 65-37, and yet, their intensity never wavered en route to their most dominant quarter of the contest. Canada’s pressure continually turned over the Chilean side as senior team rookie Mychal Mulder registered his first two baskets in the red and white with back-to-back athletic finishes off of forced turnovers. The exclamation point came just moments later when Anthony let loose a left-handed jam in the paint off a Kajami-Keane dish to extend the lead to 34 with under five to play.

All in all, every player on the roster hit the scoresheet and played at least five minutes as the outcome was rarely, if ever, in doubt. With the win, Canada improved to 9-2, which will likely be the same record as their final opponent of qualifying play, a heated rival, Venezuela.

Notes:

  • Canada improves to 9-2 with a +242 point differential.
    • Canada has the point differential lead by 149 points as of present so a win over Venezuela (currently 9-1) on Sunday solidifies first place.
    • Venezuela enters winners of two straight versus Canada so even if the game only matters for seeding, expect the Canadians to play as though a medal is on the line.
  • The new qualifying “windows” format catches a lot of flak due to certain countries missing out because their NBA talent can’t help them qualify (ex. Reigning Eurobasket Champion Slovenia failed to qualify for the World Cup) but opportunities like this to grow the game in unconventional host cities might make it worth it.
  • After a surprisingly poor turnout for the last home games in September, the St. John’s crowd made sure Team Canada knew they were on home soil, cheering hard for each Canada point as though they were watching the World Juniors in December.
  • Don’t sleep on U-Sports! Although much of the fanfare for Canada’s nascent golden generation focuses on the breadth of high-level NBA talent, the country’s talent truly has become deeper at all levels. For the third consecutive game, half of the twelve-man Canadian roster finished their collegiate career playing north of the border (The Scrubb’s & Kajami-Keane- Carleton, Adika Peter-McNeilly & Aaron Best -Ryerson, Conor Morgan-UBC).

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