It took less than five minutes for Canada’s women’s basketball team to turn Friday’s World Cup game versus France into a romp.
The Canadians’ 17-0 run that straddled the second and third quarters surprised even coach Victor Lapena.
“17? I didn’t know,” Lapena said, with raised eyebrows, in the post-game press conference. “Fantastic.”
Nirra Fields scored 17 points, while Kayla Alexander had a game-high 14 rebounds plus nine points and the Canadians (2-0) beat France 59-45 to remain the only undefeated team in Group B.
Shay Colley added 11 points for the Canadians, who never trailed and led by as many as 20 points.
“We played really good team basketball today, especially on the defensive end, we were really locked in on the game plan, what the coaches asked of us,” Alexander said.
Gabby Williams scored 13 points to top France.
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The Canadians’ victory came two days after a 67-60 win over Serbia, and all but clinches a spot in the quarterfinals as the top four teams in each group advance. A high finish in the preliminary round, and a significant point differential, will be key to avoiding the Americans in the knockout round.
No. 6 France, meanwhile, was coming up a 67-59 upset of third-ranked Australia, but looked nothing like that victorious team against a smothering Canadian defence.
“I like that we switch up our defences because it throws the opponents off track usually, it can get them out of their rhythm and it just shows as a team that we’re locked in and that we’re able to actually execute when coach throws something else out there,” Alexander said.
“So, I actually like being able to mix it up and throwing something different at our opponents, trying to get them up off their feet a bit.”
It was the second solid game from the 31-year-old Alexander, who led Canada in scoring against Serbia with 13 points. Her hustle on the boards on Friday saw Canada outrebound France 56-38.
“I know I’m not a very vocal person. I’m more of a quiet leader,” Alexander said.
“I try to lead by example, but to know that you have coaches and teammates that trust in you and believe in you, it means a lot. I’m very thankful.”
Phoenix Mercury guard Kia Nurse had seven points, including five in the first five minutes, as she continues her comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee almost a year ago.
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Lapena, who was hired in January after Canada’s disappointing preliminary-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, was thrilled with his team’s defensive effort, but would like to see an improvement on the offensive end.
“I think as a coach I would like to… give them the tools to score at least 10 more points,” the Spaniard said. “We have players with points in their hands.
“I have to think about, to study our possibilities to give them the tools… to enjoy more offence.”
Canada shot just 29 per cent from the field and 30 per cent from three-point range. France shot 37 per cent, but went just 3-for-19 — 16 per cent — from behind the arc.
Both teams struggled to score in an ugly first quarter that saw the Canadians race out to an early six-point lead and lead 15-9 to start the second.
The Canadians found their offensive groove late in the half, finishing with a 9-0 run in the final 1:45 punctuated by a three-pointer from Bridget Carleton. Fields’ driving layup with 15 seconds left sent Canada into the halftime break with a 29-17 lead.
The Canadians opened the second half with an 8-0 run, capped with a three-pointer from Colley that saw Canada take a 20-point lead. France sliced the difference to 13 points late in the third quarter, but Fields’ driving layup put Canada up 45-30 with one quarter to play.
The French battled back to within 11 points late in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they would come.
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Canada takes on Japan (1-1), the reigning Olympic silver medallists, on Sunday. Asked what will be key to beating the Japanese, Lapena said he and his staff will meet to brainstorm defensive strategies.
“The players are going to be super tired the next day so… we will make it easier for them to execute, and they are doing a great job, a great job on defence and the attitude is perfect,” the coach said.
Japan crushed Mali 89-56 in their opener before dropping a 69-64 decision to Serbia.
The Canadians face Australia on Monday and Mali on Tuesday to wrap up the preliminary round.
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