Canada fly over Slovenia to reach the Semi-Finals for the first time
MANILA (Philippines) - There were 18 lead changes in the first half alone, but Canada ended on top in the extraordinary Quarter-Finals matchup with Slovenia, 100-89 at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 in front of a sell-out crowd in Manila.
Canada will now face Serbia in the Semi-Finals in the Mall of Asia Arena, while Slovenia move to Classification Games 5-8.
Turning point: Canada and Slovenia played one of the best halves in World Cup history, both reaching 50 points after 20 minutes in a high paced game that saw both teams just go full small-ball, without a single big on the court, to avoid the matchup hunting that Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have been doing from tip-off on.
Whatever coach Jordi Fernandez told his men in the locker room, he should do it more often because Canada switched from sixth to seventh gear after the break.
RJ Barrett was outstanding with 13 points in the third quarter, and Dillon Brooks knocked down a big three-pointer to make it a seven-point game early in the second half. Of course he celebrated it as loud as he could, after the not-so-warm welcome he received entering the court.
The lead ballooned to 10 points with five minutes left in the third, and Slovenia could not get back into the game over the remaining 15 minutes, mostly because of Canada's stellar defense in the second half.
TCL Player of the Game: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was at his usual efficient level, scoring 31 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while also getting 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
Make that back-to-back 30-point games for the Canada superstar, since he had 30 against Spain to send Canada to the Quarter-Finals.
Stats don't lie: Both teams like to run, but Canada enjoyed running a bit more in front of 11,710 fans. They were up 23-7 in fast break points, annulling Slovenia's better shooting from beyond the arc - Slovenia made 14 threes in three quarters, that was already the highest number of three-pointers allowed by Canada in World Cup history.
Slovenia scored just one more three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
Bottom line: Everybody knew the two frontrunners in the MVP race will show up and put on a show. The question was how the supporting cast would react, and Canada were simply better, with Barrett (24 points), Brooks (14 points) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14 points) all getting into double digits.
Honorable mention goes to Luguentz Dort with 8 points and physical defense on Luka Doncic.
Canada reached their first Semi-Final in World Cup history, while Slovenia have to wait for such achievement for at least another four years.
Doncic had 26 points in 29 minutes before picking up his second technical with seven minutes left in the game, but Klemen Prepelic was the only one who followed his lead, finishing with 22 points.
They said: "They played great, it was very physical. They have one of the best players in the world so it was really tough to guard him. But I'm proud of my team. Everybody game 100 percent when they went out there. We should go back to the hotel with our heads up. I'm just proud of this team. We were close, but it starts with me. I gotta be better for my team with all the emotions, playing for your country, you wanna give your best, you wanna die out there." - Luka Doncic, Slovenia
"Congrats to team Canada, they have a great team, great players, great coach. We played good or excellent first half, we had some troubles in the third quarter, we lost concentration, gave up too many transition points. On the other side, we didn't score some open shots we could've, and their athleticism prevailed. I'm proud of the guys, we faced a lot of problems and injuries. What they did, this is beyond amazing. I felt like the whole arena was cheering for us. There were a couple of guys who didn't like us, but what can we do." - Aleksander Sekulic, Slovenia head coach
"It feels great. We went out there and did it as a unit, everybody played hard together, we were fighting and that's the best part about it. The next step is enjoying this one tonight, watching the film tomorrow and getting to practice, getting ready to win this next game. I watched a bit of (Serbia's) last game against Lithuania, they play well, they play together, and my high school teammate Filip Petrusev is on that team, so it's gonna be fun." - RJ Barrett, Canada
"Congrats to these guys, they just made history. This is the best position so far for Canada, congrats to the guys, to the country and to Canada Basketball. Tonight was a fight and these guys executed at a high level. It was extremely important to finish possessions because that's when our fast break starts. We pushed the pace for 40 minutes and it went our way." - Jordi Fernandez, Canada head coach