Canada faced the weakest team in Group B, Mali, in their last Group Stage game. Canada led the entire game, en route to a 88-65 dominant victory, finishing as the second-ranked Group B team with a 4-1 record.
Canada had a convincing 53-29 first-half lead, but they let their foot off the gas, as they have previously done, allowing Mali to tie the third frame 17-17 and walk away with a final quarter victory of 19-18.
Head coach Victor Lapena’s offensive strategy has been to exhaust the defence through passing. Canada swung the ball throughout the game as 73% of Canada’s made baskets came off assists (22 assists on 30 made baskets). Mali only had 12 assists on 23 made baskets.
Canada attempted the most 3s against Mali, hoisting up 27 of them. This was five more than they attempted against Australia. Canada went 11-for-27 beyond the arc, seven of them splashed by Bridget Carleton, who finished the game with 27 points. All seven of her made 3s were above-the-break, catch-and-shoots, hitting as many in the Mali game as she had in the past four. Before Mali, Carleton was shooting 33% (7-for-21 across four games).
After a much-needed reset, Canada will face Puerto Rico, who finished 2-3 in Group A, in the quarter-finals. Canada has not medalled since 1986 and Lapena’s goal at the start of the World Cup was for Canada to compete for one. Canada must win against Puerto Rico for Lapena’s goal to be achieved.
Canada will be in the unusual position of being a figurative Goliath to Puerto Rico’s David as the latter, currently ranked 17th, punched its first quarter-finals appearance amid Hurricane Fiona. All the pressure will be on Canada to assert its fourth-place status in the basketball world.
After losing to Serbia 72-68 in the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics (and subsequently being knocked out), Canada got its revenge by beating them in the World Cup group stage. Like Kia Nurse coming back from her ACL injury, Canada, too, needs to re-assert itself — both aren’t merely happy just being here, they realize the need to maintain and also rise.
Canada has averaged 67.4 field goal attempts per game. In contrast, the favourites of this tournament, USA, has averaged 75, and China, 69.8. Puerto Rico has averaged 64.4.
Carleton, Canada’s leading scorer with 14.8 points per game, must space out the floor with her three-point shooting. She can handle the ball and has a knack for getting inside as well. Here, the pick-and-roll sequence with Kayla Alexander was executed beautifully.
Alexander, who received high praise from Lapena after the Serbia game, will be the key to Canada’s performance down low. Standing 6’4”, she is third on the team in scoring (10.2 PPG), and her pick-and-roll actions, like the one above, causes the defence to collapse, and opens opportunities for the likes of Shay Colley, Nirra Fields (second on the team in PPG at 12.2), and Aislinn Konig.
Role players like Konig will be pivotal in the elimination round. Against Mali, she got open looks off flair screens, great ball movement (Lapena loves passing) and in transition. The surrounding cast supporting Canada’s core this way will be vital to get Ws going forward.
Two main questions remain. One, will Kia Nurse return to a shell of her 2019 WNBA All-Star form? Or will she remain on minutes restriction for the duration of the tournament? Second, how will Canada’s young bloods play in the elimination round? Laeticia Amihere has size and length, can switch on defense, and has proven to be an offensive force in select World Cup games. She played under the bright lights of the 2022 NCAA March Madness finals, so her stepping up would catapult this squad to the heights of its aspiration.
Canada will face Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 28th at 9:30 PM PT (Thursday, September 29th 12:30 EST) on Sportsnet.