FIBA Women’s World Cup takeaways: Canada secures top-two finish in Group B

Canada's Bridget Carleton, right, goes past Mali's Maimouna Haidara during their game at the women's Basketball World Cup in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Bridget Carleton scored 27 points and made seven three-pointers as Canada routed Mali 88-65 to conclude its group stage at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 in Sydney, Australia. 

With the win, Canada concluded group play with a 4-1 record and a guaranteed top-two finish in the group. 

“I was really happy with how we approached the game,” said Canadian forward Natalie Achonwa, who finished with nine points. “These are the kinds of games that can get you caught up, fifth game in six days. And the mentality we took coming in to respect our opponents and to come up with our best effort was shown today.” 

The victory also ensured Canada would finish top two in Group B after it narrowly missed out on getting an opportunity to finish the atop the group outright, falling to host Australia a day before, 75-72. 

The Canadians will have a day off before their quarterfinal matchup against Puerto Rico. 

Mali, the 37th-ranked team in the world, entered its game against Canada under the shadow of an unfortunate video that showed teammates fighting each other after a loss to Serbia earlier in the tournament. 

After the Canada game, the two players involved in the altercation, Salimatou Kourouma and Kamite Elisabeth Dabou offered a public apology. 

“We’re here to apologize for the images that were seen on social media,” Kourouma said. “It was not our intention and we were frustrated because of the loss. So, we’re here to apologize to the world of basketball, FIBA World Cup, and we’re here to apologize. We are sorry for the images. Thank you very much for your time.” 

With that shadow looming over Mali entering the game, Canada showed no mercy jumping out to a 33-16 advantage after one quarter and coasting to victory afterwards in a game that should serve as a confidence-booster heading into the quarters. 

Here are a few takeaways from Canada’s win over Mali.  

Top-two spot secured

It was important for Canada to finish within the top two of its group as that ensured it would avoid the likes of the No. 1 ranked Americans, who put up a Women’s World Cup scoring record of 145 in a contest with South Korea, and No. 7 China in the quarterfinals. 

Instead, now, Canada will see No. 17 Puerto Rico. 

The possibility of facing Belgium in the quarters sounded daunting, but as this tournament has proven, China has actually looked like a more dangerous threat, especially after it defeated Belgium 81-55 in its group-play finale. 

Like Canada, China boasts a 4-1 record, with its only loss coming to the U.S. in a relatively tight affair, falling 77-63. 

Therefore, avoiding the United States and China in the quarters should be something of a blessing for Canada. 

“It’s very different playing against Puerto Rico, with all due respect, than to play against USA,” Canada head coach Victor Lapena said. “USA is playing in a different tournament, on a different planet. They’re playing Space Jam. And China is a very, very, very serious team.”

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The Carleton and Kayla show

Carleton put on a clinic against Mali, dropping 27 points in a little over 25 minutes of action, while shooting lights out from deep, going 7-for-8 from beyond the arc. 

The standout performance was her third straight strong one of the tournament after a sluggish start and has looked to cement her as, probably, Canada’s best offensive option. 

“I love to see the confidence that everyone else gets to see now in Bridget Carleton,” Achonwa said. “She’s always been explosive, she’s always been a shooter, a scorer, but she’s really embraced this moment and our need for her to fill that role. And I’m glad to see that the world gets to see it as well, who I’ve known that Bridget Carleton has been all this time.” 

And not too far behind is Kayla Alexander, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds against Mali. 

Alexander’s been a consistent performer on the boards during the tournament and versus Mali she showed what she can do offensively as a clean-up woman, who can get hers by simply running the floor and crashing the glass hard without any need for a play to run. 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Carleton, Canada’s leading scorer at 14.8 per game, and Alexander, the team’s top rebounder at 11.4, have been the two most consistent performers in Sydney. 

Their strong play will have to continue for Canada to continue to have success as it looks to make a podium run. 

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Lesser known players make their World Cup debut

With the game well in hand by the start of the second quarter, Lapena had the luxury to do something he hadn’t done before in the tournament: Play all 12 players at his disposal. 

This included 18-year-old Phillipina Kyei, bench cheerleading queen Taya Hanson and forward Mael Gilles. 

Hanson and Gilles were able to make their World Cup debuts when their numbers were called and the nine minutes of action Kyei saw was triple the floor time she got when she made her debut against France. 

“I’m just so happy for our bench,” Achonwa said. “A lot of our team this is their first World Cup, and for them to actually be able to get minutes on the floor in a game. They cheer us on every day, they make us better in practice, and for them to be able to have the opportunity to show that in a World Cup on a world stage I’m just really happy for them.

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