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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Canada stays perfect with 112-71 win over Panama in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers


EDMONTON, Alberta (Nov. 13, 2022) - The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team remains undefeated. After handing Panama a 112-71 loss, the Canadians moved to a perfect 10-0 in the FIBA 2023 Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers.

Canada already punched their ticket to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Thursday with a dominant victory against Venezuela, but true to Associate Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren’s words after that victory, the team was ready for Panama.

"After coming off our first game against Venezuela where we clinched, we [said] we were going to enjoy it that evening,” Bjorkgren said. “The very next day at our film session [we were locked in on Panama]. The approach that this team has put into every one of these games, all 10 of them, is elite. It’s unmatched.”

Aaron Best’s game-high 22 points led seven Canadians in double figures in the victory. Best connected on six three-pointers in just 22 minutes as the team shot 48 percent from beyond the arc, connecting on 19-of-40 attempts from deep.

“This man next to me can really play basketball,” Bjorkgren said of Best. “He gets asked a lot out there on the floor. He gets asked to guard the best player on the other team. We ask him to pick up full, we ask him to run the floor, we ask him to crash the glass. He shoots the three. He does everything that a coach wants him to do, that a team wants him to do. He’s always making the right play. It was Aaron Best tonight with 22, but we had six or seven guys in double digits around that 10, 15 points and that’s what is special about this team, their ability to share the ball.

Joining Best in double figures was Kassius Robertson with 13 points, Trae Bell-Haynes, Melvin Ejim and Conor Morgan with 12 points apiece and Jahvon Henry-Blair and Phil Scrubb adding 10 points each in the victory while big man Owen Klassen finished with eight rebounds and five assists.

Ernesto Oglivie had 14 points to lead Panama in the loss.

Canada shot 53 percent in the win while holding Panama to 39 percent shooting after a hot-shooting opening quarter from both teams. The Canadians also connected on 11 more three-pointers than their opponent and had just eight turnovers to Panama’s 16 miscues.

After a close start to the game, the score was tied at 17 with 3:01 remaining in the first quarter. Canada then closed the quarter on a 13-4 run to take an eight-point advantage after the opening 10 minutes.

“Panama has a good coach and a good team and they’ve been right in there,” Bjorkgren said. “You could see our guys, they kept coming and coming. I know I’ve said the word relentless a lot, but that’s what this team is. Their approach to the game, their approach to the details and number one, how hard they play and how hard they play for each other. It’s really fun to watch.”

The second quarter was all Canada. After a three for Panama’s Trevor Gaskins trimmed Canada’s lead to fou4, 32-28, Canada reeled off a 17-0 run, capped by a putback layup for Kalif Young to go ahead 49-28 with 2:11 remaining in the half. Canada outscored Panama 22-11 in the second quarter and held a 20-point lead, 52-32, at the break.

Best’s 14 points led all scorers at the half. He was 5-for-7 from the floor, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in 14 minutes as he helped Canada pull away. As a team, Canada made 9-of-21 attempts in the first two quarters.

“I think from start to finish we just wanted to come out and set the tone defensively,” Best said. “ I think we were able to do that, consistently, throughout the game and we were able to come out with the win.”

Canada continued to roll in the third, opening the second half on a 10-0 run to extend their lead to 30 points, 62-32, as Panama called timeout with 7:37 remaining in the quarter. A three-pointer from Josimar Ayarza with 6:42 remaining in the third was Panama’s first field goal since the 8:20 mark of the second quarter. After a three from Scrubb, Canada’s lead was 71-38 with 4:56 remaining in the third.

Back-to-back three-pointers for Best and then a three from Robertson extended Canada’s lead to 81-42 with 1:58 remaining in the quarter. Canada took an 85-49 advantage into the fourth and went on to victory easily from there.

“There’s 12 guys that dressed tonight, but there’s about 40 players that are a part of this whole process,” Best said. “Each and every one of them are locked in and committed to the goal and they understand that we all have the next man up mentality. If it's not me it’s somebody else. If it’s not somebody else, then the next guy is going to step in. We all know what the goal is and we all have the same level of focus. Whatever 12 guys put on the jersey, we all have the same mentality.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a few of these teams and I just enjoy the experience every time,” Best continued. “The camaraderie with the guys, the attention to detail and the brotherhood we’ve been able to form over these windows, we don't have a lot of time together, but we are able to maximize the time that we do have together and go out there and handle business.”

With the victory, Canada remains the lone undefeated team in the Americas through FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. Their sixth and final window of qualifiers will be in February where they will play Argentina and Venezuela.

“It says a lot about Team Canada,” Bjorkgren said of the team’s undefeated record. “You talked about 10 of [these games]. We’ve had the same approach every single time for every one of them. And here we are again. We’ve got another one to play.  All of our focus is on February 24 against Argentina [now].”