Of the many impressive facets of Canada’s win over Serbia to open the FIBA World Cup, the one that jumps out the most was the collective poise of a team playing its first game together.
A game that could have gotten close and might have gotten close in the past never did because the Canadians repelled every run Serbia made, played with confidence and intelligence in the final five minutes to record a 67-60 win in Sydney that sets them up wonderfully for the rest of the tournament’s first round.
“I just think that starts with every day in practice,” guard Shay Colley said the team’s composure in the final five or six minutes.
“You know, we play aggressive defence against each other in practice and it just shows. Coach is always on us about being poised no matter if you have the ball down low or are bringing it up the court so I think that going through that through practice really paid off in the game.”
Canada led — at times comfortably — from late in the first quarter but Serbia, a veteran team that won the 2020 EuroBasket title, did not cave.
But for every three-pointer the Serbs made, Canada answered with a bucket; almost every offensive rebound the Canadians gave up ultimately ended with a defensive stop and Nirra Fields sealed the game with an offensive rebound of her own with about 15 seconds left.
“Even (when) Serbia was working really hard, they are very good team, we were able to make good decisions, to share the ball and to play with calm and I think it was very important for the final result,” Canadian coach Victor Lapeña said.
There were significant individual performances, to be sure.
Kayla Alexander led Canada with 13 points and seven rebounds and played with a preternatural calm against an aggressive, athletic Serbia frontcourt.
Alexander is one of the quiet leaders on the team, not someone with perhaps the reputation of more familiar teammates but her veteran presence is vital.
“I’m super happy because she’s one of our leaders,” Lapeña said of Alexander. “Maybe she doesn’t talk too much (but when) she speaks with her teammates, everybody is, ‘Kayla talked about it, let’s do it.’ ”
And Kia Nurse, playing her first real game in almost a year after recovering from ACL surgery, played about 19 minutes, had nine points and three assists and was central to Canada’s solid finish.
Fields had 12 points and Natalie Achonwa 10 for Canada.
The victory was significant for how it sets up the rest of the first round for Canada, which is seeking the country’s first final four appearance at a World Cup since1986.
They will likely need two, perhaps three, wins in their five first-round games to have a realistic shot at a semifinal berth and their road is pockmarked with excellent opponents.
Canada faces France, which upset the host Australians to wrap the tournament’s first day, in their next game (4 a.m. ET Friday, Sportsnet) and also get Australia, Mali and 2020 Olympic silver medallists Japan in the first round.
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