Canada overcomes France with defensive masterclass

After defeating 10th ranked Serbia on opening night of the 2022 FIBA World Cup, Team Canada kept the ball rolling on Friday morning with a 59-45 win over 6th ranked Team France to improve to 2-0 in the tournament. 

Canada played nine players in the opening quarter and proved to be the bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic team, benefiting from a chippy game that never really had a good flow to it and was all about defense, physicality and fundamentals, playing to Canada’s strengths and maybe even being part of the gameplan. That and a 17-point explosion from Nirra Fields was the difference. 

After a slow start had Canada with a slight 20-17 lead with 2:50 to go in the second-quarter, Canada went on a 9-0 run to end the half up 29-17. They kept that run going into the third quarter, scoring the first 8 points of the half to total a 17-0 run to put them up 37-17 midway through the third quarter. From there, it was history. 

“I think we played really good team basketball today, especially on the defensive end, we were really locked in on the game plan, what the coaches asked of us and I think that defense led us,” veteran center Kayla Alexander said after scoring 9 points and grabbing 14 rebounds against the French.

A night after France, who won bronze at the 2021 Olympics, scored 70 points against 3rd ranked Australia, Canada held them to just 45 points on 30.6 percent shooting from the field, including a disastrous 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Canada stayed out of foul trouble, sending France to the line only 7 times on the night compared to 19 free throws for Canada. They also limited WNBA star Gabby Williams to just 13 points — including only 2 in the first half — after she put up 23 points the night before. 

Most importantly, Canada forced 14 France turnovers, scoring 21 points off them. It was clear that Canada’s defense got into France’s heads, scaring them away from the rim with their length and physicality, which was changing what should have been French layups into awkward floaters; and making them second-guess their passes as Canada was flying around the perimeter and getting into passing lanes to come up with 7 steals.

“As a team, we love having coach with us. He’s full of energy… I like his philosophies, especially on defense. I love that he challenges us, he has me doing things on defense I normally wouldn’t think I could do,” Alexander said, likely hinting at Canada’s willingness to casually shift from man to zone and from switching the pick-and-roll to trapping it aggressively, keeping opponents off balance. 

“I like that we switch up our defences because it throws the opponents off track usually, it can get them out of their rhythm and it just shows as a team that we’re locked in and that we’re able to actually execute when coach throws something else out there, so I actually like being able to mix it up and throwing something different at our opponents, trying to get them up off their feet a bit.”

The only real critique against Canada in the entire tournament so far is that they did take their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 15-14 in the frame, including 5 turnovers. They got sloppy with their ball protection and on the other end of the floor with their ball pressure and rotations, allowing France to hit all 3 of their made threes in the quarter. While it didn’t affect the result of the game, point differential matters in this tournament, as it will act as a tiebreaker if teams have the same number of points after all five group games. Canada will want to finish in the top-2 of the group in order to avoid the American favourites in the next round, as a top-2 finish guarantees a draw to play against the 3rd or 4th seed in the opposing group. 

Still, give a lot of credit to Canada Basketball — not just for the coaching change, which has clearly been beneficial as the players appear to be bought into Victor Lapena’s philosophies — but also for the roster they have constructed. I admit I was skeptical about the lack of high-end wings on the roster, with only Bridget Carleton, who has been excellent on the defensive end through two games, playing big minutes at that position. But Canada’s guards and forwards have proven to be versatile enough to not need a great deal of wing depth, with their strong guards having the ability to guard up a position and fast bigs having the ability to guard down.

Canada will face off against 8th ranked Japan next, with that game coming on Sunday, September 25th at 6:30am EST. Japan is 1-1 in the tournament with a win over Mali in which they scored 89 points and close loss to Serbia.

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