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Canada takes aim at men’s basketball World Cup medal after chippy win over Slovenia

Canada’s last podium appearance at a major senior basketball tournament was in 1986, a bronze at the women’s World Cup.

You have to go back 50 years before that, to the 1936 Olympics, for the men’s team’s last medal — silver after a 19-8 loss to the U.S. amid a rainstorm in Nazi Germany.

But with one more victory at the 2023 men’s World Cup, those droughts will be over.

Canada defeated Slovenia 100-89 in the quarterfinals in Manila on Wednesday, guaranteeing it will play for a medal for the first time ever at this tournament. The Canadians will next meet Serbia, which crushed Lithuania on Tuesday, with a spot in the championship match on the line on Friday.

The other semifinal pits the U.S. versus Germany, which defeated Latvia 81-79 earlier on Wednesday.

“I think that we’re showing that we’re such a hard-working team that when we come together and do the right things and listen to what coach is telling us to do, we can be special,” said R.J. Barrett, who was second on the team with 24 points.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, of Hamilton, Ont., once again led a high-powered Canadian scoring attack with 31 points, to go with team highs of 10 rebounds and four assists.

Along with Barrett, of Mississauga, Ont., Gilgeous-Alexander keyed yet another third-quarter explosion for Canada, turning a halftime tie into a 16-point lead around halfway through the frame to take control of the contest as Slovenia, led by NBA superstar Luka Doncic, seemed to turn its attention to the referees.

But as in previous games, Canada kept its eyes on the prize while storming out of the halftime gates, just like in wins over France, Latvia and Spain in the opening rounds of the tournament in Indonesia.

“It’s not just Shai. … I think our guys today like Dillon [Brooks], his role today, he did at a high level. R.J., Kelly [Olynyk]. At the end of the day, like The Arkells say, this team is relentless, and we showed it in Jakarta, and we’re showing it here too,” said Canadian head coach Jordi Fernandez.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the cousin of Gilgeous-Alexander, and Brooks added 14 points apiece.

“I think what you see from our team is it can be anybody. Of course Shai is the head of the snake, he’s always going to do what he does. But just in terms of everybody else, last game it was Dillon. The game before that Lu [Dort] played well. It could be anybody on our team that has that night and I think that’s one of our strengths,” said Barrett, who was just shy of a double-double with nine rebounds.

After sparking Canada’s thrilling three-point victory over Spain, Brooks put together his second straight dominant defensive performance, hounding Doncic into an eight-for-20 shooting night.

“Dillon played great. He was very physical, like he always [is]. I know a lot of people don’t like him, but I respect him for what he does, and he does that stuff really good,” Doncic said.

With the loss, Slovenia will be relegated to a last-chance qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympics, while Germany and Serbia clinch the European berths along with host France.

Canada already booked its Olympic spot with the victory over Spain.

Perhaps, by the time they land in France next summer, the Canadians will be looking to add to a growing medal collection.

Steve Carr

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