Canada is moving on to the semifinals at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup for the first time ever.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had game highs of 31 points and 10 rebounds in Canada’s 100-89 win over Slovenia on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
RJ Barrett added 24 points and nine rebounds for the 15th-ranked Canadians, who will next play sixth-ranked Serbia on Friday morning. Germany, which beat Latvia 81-79 on Wednesday, will take on the U.S. in the other semifinal on Friday.
“It’s an honour,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after the game. “It’s an honour in itself. But we’re not satisfied.”
“It feels great,” Barrett said at the post-game press conference. “We did it as a unit, everybody played hard together, we were fighting. And I think that’s the best part about it.”
“The next step is obviously, you know, enjoy this one tonight, watching film tomorrow, going to practice and getting ready to win this next game,” Barrett added.
Canada’s previous best result at the tournament were a pair of sixth-place finishes in 1978 and 1982.
Serbia reached the final in 2014 and has earned semifinal berths at three of the last four editions of the tournament.
It will be the first time that Serbia and Canada have played at the event. Medal games are scheduled for Sunday.
“They’re a very good team,” Canada head coach Jordi Fernandez said of Serbia at the post-game presser. “Great coach, a great program, guys that know where it is, they have a lot of FIBA experience, something that we lack but we’re getting this experience day by day.
“Like I said on Day 1, we’re gonna get better every single day, every single game and today we were better than what we were versus Spain. And when we play Serbia, we will be better than today.”
Luka Doncic led seventh-ranked Slovenia with 26 points. He exited with 6:37 remaining after picking up his second technical foul, both for yelling at referees to complain about what he viewed as missed calls.
It was a back and forth affair in the first half, with 18 lead changes and six ties. Neither side led by more than four points and the score was even at 50 at half.
But Canada continued to show itself as a second-half team. After Slovenia’s Mike Tobey scored the first basket of the third quarter, Canada went on an 11-0 run, with Barrett scoring six of those points, and taking the largest lead of the game.
Canada, however, could not maintain its momentum late in the third. Up 80-64 with 1:57 remaining, Doncic scored five straight, including a step-back three pointer, followed by a pair of free throws from Klemen Prepelic to go into the fourth only down nine.
Canada opened the fourth with a 7-0 run in a 1:53 span. Up 92-76 with 7:06 remaining, Brooks — who had 14 points in the game — exited for a second technical foul, which brought Lu Dort back into the game to guard Doncic.
“He has to be better,” Fernandez said of Brooks. “We need him on the court, he cannot get disqualified. We have to have better composure as a team.
“After that, I think he’s the best defender, with Lu Dort, the best perimeter defender in this competition. I think today, it was a defensive clinic of leading with his (Brooks) chest, showing his hands, pressuring full court, and if you don’t think that way, then you don’t like basketball.”
Canada was up 94-77 with 5:36 left in the frame but Slovenia fought back, cutting the deficit to nine behind an 8-0 run with 3:34 remaining.
But it was Gilgeous-Alexander who responded with a leaning pull-up jumper 25 seconds later but missed the free throw to follow.
However, less than a minute later, he was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound between three Slovenians and hit both free throws to help Canada pull away.
“He dominated the game at playmaking, scoring and finishing possessions or offensive rebounds,” Fernandez said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “But it’s not just Shai, that’s his job. His job is to defend, play make and score.
“Everybody else has a job on this team … like the Arkells say, this team is relentless and we’ve shown it in Jakarta (Indonesia) and we’re showing it here too.”
Slovenia’s loss allowed Germany and Serbia to earn Olympic berths for the Paris 2024 Games. Slovenia will have to compete in a qualifying tournament for a chance to get in.
Canada qualified for the Olympics on Sunday with an 88-85 comeback victory over top-ranked defending champion Spain.
Canada’s men’s team hasn’t played at the Summer Games since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.