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Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team wins Parapan Am bronze to keep Paralympic hopes alive

Facing a must-win situation to keep its Paralympic dreams alive, the Canadian men’s basketball team defeated Argentina 70-62 on Saturday at the Parapan American Games.

That triumph in Chile means they live to fight another day when it comes to qualifying for Paris 2024.

Edmonton’s Patrick Anderson scored a team-high 22 points for Canada, while Colin Higgins, from Rothesay, N.B., added 21 points and 11 assists.

With the bronze-medal victory, the Canadians have assured themselves a spot in a last-chance qualifier next April.

“Can’t really overstate how big the stakes felt today not only for us but for our whole program moving forward. We bought ourselves another life here,” Anderson said.

“Still getting it done in smaller batches, I guess. Just enough today. It feels really good and a bit of relief. But it also feels like a step. When you’re a good team trying to be great there are very few easy steps.”

Anderson has been a leader within the program for more than two decades and was competing in his sixth Parapan Am Games at age 44.

He scored clutch points late in the game, including a deep three pointer, that sealed the triumph for Canada.

“That was a tough one but we took it. And now we move onto the next one.”

“We’re trying to separate ourselves from the pack and establish ourselves in that upper echelon together. It’s still kind of new to me and we’re all trying to figure that out together. Scratch and claw to get up there with the big boys.”

Relief. Celebration. And now an opportunity to look forward and prepare for a crucial tournament in a few months to try and earn a berth to Paris.

The gold-medal winner in Santiago earned a direct berth to the Paralympics while second and third place earned a spot in a final tournament to determine the teams at Paris 2024.

Canada will now have to place within the top-four at the last-chance qualifying tournament in Antibes, France, in mid-April.

“Being in one of these last-chance tournaments is something I’ve never been part of. It’s going to be interesting. Really great teams aren’t going to make it to Paris,” Anderson said.

For Higgins, this was a big moment in his career with the national team, playing critical moments throughout the game and scoring 21 points to help lead the team to a crucial victory.

“It’s the game nobody wants to play in. It means you lost the day before but we have big goals for this team and had to beat a really good Argentina team,” he said.

“I think we’re gutsy. We’re a gutsy group. Guys stepped up and it’s great to see us all come together. There was a lot on the line. Big win for the program. We’ll enjoy the next little bit and get back to work.”

Wheelchair basketball has been contested at the Paralympics since 1960. It wasn’t until the 1990s Canadian teams started to assert dominance in the sport.

Throughout the 2000s, the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team was a force, winning gold at the 2000, 2004 and 2012 Paralympics.

Canada has competed in every Paralympics in men’s wheelchair basketball since 1968 and now it has a chance to keep the streak alive.

In Saturday’s bronze-medal match, Canada took an early 8-2 lead, forcing Argentina to take a timeout in an attempt to slow down the Canadian momentum.

Canada defeated Argentina 56-49 in a scrappy match during the preliminary round.

After the first quarter on Saturday, the Canadians led 17-12.

In the second, Canada mounted a nine-point lead before Argentina stormed back with a couple of quick baskets to make the score 23-18. This time it was the Canadians calling for a timeout to try and pull back the momentum that was starting to build on the Argentinian side.

Canada stopped Argentina’s offence on four successive possessions and cashed in on the other end of the floor, building back a seven-point lead with two minutes left in the half.

But Argentina would not go away easily, taking a 28-27 lead into halftime. Canadian coach Matteo Feriani, irate at the referees, was issued a technical foul.

Not a single foul was called against Argentina in the second quarter compared to five handed out to Canadian players.

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