CARACAS, Venezuela (February 26, 2023) - The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team defeated Venezuela 74-57 on Sunday to close out the FIBA Men’s’ Basketball World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers with a FIBA-best 11-1 record.
“It was a really big win for us,” Team Canada Associate Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “An important win in the way we came in here to finish out the road trip.
“I thought our guys did such a great job of responding from our previous game [against Argentina],” Bjorkgren said.
Phil Scrubb and Kalif Young led the way for Canada with 14 points apiece in Sunday’s victory while Trae Bell-Haynes and Jackson Rowe added 12 points apiece. Bell-Haynes also finished with a game-high seven assists, while Scrubb added five.
The atmosphere was amazing,” Bjorkgren said of the game. “There was tons of energy in that gym. A lot of intensity. A very well played basketball game by both teams. I thought it was very, very physical out there. It was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Nestor Colmenares led Venezuela with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Michael Carrera added 10 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.
“I thought the bigs for Venezuela were doing some nice things,” Bjorkgren said. ““This Venezuela team really comes out and plays well,” Bjorkgren said.
Canada shot 42 percent from the floor in the win, while holding Venezuela to 28 percent shooting. The Canadians also held a 9-4 edge in made three-pointers, while their reserves outscored Venezuela’s bench 36-25.
After Venezuela jumped out to a quick start and built a six-point lead midway through the opening quarter, Canada called timeout to regroup. A layup from Rowe and then a three-pointer for Kadre Gray put Canada back in front. After another Bucket from Rowe, Canada had closed the quarter on an 8-0 run to lead by five.
“We had to adjust to their physicality,” Bjorkgren said. “Their bigs can really move. I think our guys did a really good job at adjusting to that pressure and trying to play through that physicality. There were a lot of hits out there. I thought both teams were really, really getting after it. Venezuela has very active bigs. It was hard to keep them off the glass as well.”
With the energy dialled up for Canada, they pushed their run to 11 straight points after Rowe connected on a three to open the second quarter. An offensive putback for Colmenares stopped the run and got Venezuela on the board in the second quarter. After a layup from Carrera brought Venezuela within three, Rowe made another three to extend the lead back to six, 32-26, with 2:22 remaining in the half.
The second quarter pace resulted in a number of turnovers for both teams, but Canada went into the half with a 37-30 lead as the two teams combined for 25 first-half turnovers.
“I think the good thing is we were getting good shots,” Scrubb said. “We’re confident in our team that even if we’re missing, it’s a good possession if we’re getting good shots. We have confidence in our guys to share the ball, move the ball and create the best shots for us.”
Both teams got off to a slow start in the third with the first field goal in the quarter coming on a layup from Colmenares with 7:21 remaining in the quarter. Despite the slow start, Canada won the quarter as they doubled up Venezuela 16-8 in the third to go into the fourth leading by 15.
Scrubb opened the fourth quarter with a three to extend the lead to 18. After two baskets for Venezuela, Conor Morgan and Carrera got tangled up near the basket, resulting in a technical foul being called on Carrera and an unsportsmanlike foul called on Morgan. After each team made their respective free throws, Venezuela was within 12. A three-pointer from Gregory Vargas trimmed the lead down to single digits as Canada called timeout with 7:29 remaining. Out of the timeout, Vargas scored again for Venezuela, making it a seven-point game, until Scrubb connected on his second three of the game to put Canada back up by double figures.
“Phil Scrubb hit some huge shots,” Bjorkgren said. “When you’ve got a guy out there that makes big plays, makes huge shots, it makes it more fun and easier to coach.”
After a gorgeous drop-off pass from Bell-Haynes to Young under the basket, Young completed a three-point play to extend the lead back to 12 with 4:09 remaining.
Scrubb connected on his third three of the game with 3:33 remaining to push the lead back to 14 points. After a steal from Gray, Scrubb found Young in transition for an emphatic slam to put Canada up 70-57 with 1:14 remaining, sealing the victory for the Canadians.
“I can't say enough about Phil Scrubb here,” Bjorkgren said. “He’s played in all 12 of our window qualifying games. The loyalty, commitment and toughness that he has, the ability to knock down those shots in that tough environment tonight was outstanding. I think very highly of him and the rest of this team and everybody that has contributed to these wins.”
Bjorkgren also praised Venezuela for hosting the team’s final game of qualifiers.
“Amazing fans,” Bjorkgren said. “I loved the arena. We were very well taken care of and I appreciate that.”