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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Canada vows to battle for bronze after semifinal loss to Serbia at FIBA World Cup

MANILA, Philippines (Sept. 8, 2023) – Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team will be playing for bronze at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023 after falling to Serbia 95-86 in the semifinals on Friday.

Despite a 23-point performance from RJ Barrett, 15 points and nine assists from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 16 points from Dillon Brooks, Canada had no answer for a red-hot Serbian offence led by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 23 points and 16 points apiece from Nikola Milutinov and Ognjen Dobric.

Serbia was lights out from start to finish on Friday, shooting 62 percent in the game, including 45 percent from beyond the arc, while Canada finished 48 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep.

“Congratulations to Serbia,” Team Canada head coach Jordi Fernández said. “Their program, the country, the coach, the players, they played a great game. They played extremely hard and physical. I’m proud of my guys.”

Serbia led for all but 2:47 of the game as they used an 11-0 run in the first quarter to build an eight-point advantage, 23-15, after the opening 10 minutes of play. Canada did its best to cut into the lead, but a combination of not being able to slow Serbia’s offence, along with early foul trouble to Gilgeous-Alexander, Dillon Brooks and Kelly Olynyk ended up being too much to overcome.

“Credit to Serbia, they played a great game,” Barrett said. “They played hard, they played physical. They’re very well coached and disciplined. They started out fast and we were kind of down 10 [points], 12 [points] the whole way. We fought the whole way, just, credit to them.”

After a pair of free throws from Gilgeous-Alexander trimmed Canada’s deficit to eight with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Serbia closed the final 1:57 of the first half on a 7-2 run as Brooks and Gilgeous-Alexander picked up their third fouls and Fernández was hit with a technical. A steal from Olynyk and an assist from Dwight Powell ended with a dunk for Barrett to trim the deficit to 13 points, 52-39, at the break.

Canada remained in foul trouble the rest of the way through as Fernández searched for ways to buy time for starters who were limited.

“It’s part of the game of basketball,” Fernández said. “We kept playing. We kept playing hard and obviously I got a tech on purpose and I had my reasons. I think we lost because we didn’t defend. I left the officiating for whoever judges the officials. I can only say to them, thanks for doing their jobs. Without officials we couldn’t play the game of basketball. We’ve got to be better.”

Canada opened the second half strong as Gilgeous-Alexander found Brooks for a three-pointer to get within 10 points. Thanks to a scrambling defensive effort, Canada forced back-to-back turnovers, but were unable to convert on the offensive end.

Brooks picked up his fourth foul with 6:53 remaining in the third and had to go back to the bench. A minute later, Olynyk was called for his fourth foul as well. After a pair of free throws from Gilgeous-Alexander, Canada was within seven with 3:50 remaining in the third, but Serbia closed the quarter strong, taking a 75-63 advantage into the fourth.

After the game, Serbia’s head coach, Svetislav Pešič called Gilgeous-Alexander, “One of the greatest players I’ve ever watched in my career,” saying that after limiting Canada’s transition offence, slowing Gilgeous-Alexander was a priority.

Bogdanovic echoed his coach’s words, praising the defensive play of Serbian point guard Aleksa Avramovic.

“I’m so tired right now, but I'm so happy as well, that we won tonight against a team that is amazing, leading with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander,” Bogdanovic said. “We have one guy, Aleksa Avramovic, who was watching his tape for the last two days, highlights, every game. He said ‘trust me, I’m going to steal one ball,’ and I think he stole two, so, props to him.”

Avramovic began the fourth with a steal and a layup as Serbia opened the quarter on a 7-2 run to go ahead by 17 as Canada called timeout with 8:34 remaining. Fernández challenged his players to finish the game strong.

Though they were unable to get the stops needed to mount a comeback, they responded with energy on both ends of the floor, fighting until the final buzzer sounded. 

Immediately out of the timeout, Brooks drilled a three. A second three, this time from Barrett, trimmed the deficit to 13 points, but Canada wouldn’t get back within single digits until a tip in from Zach Edey with 12 seconds remaining. 

Though Canada’s quest to reach the World Cup finals is over, the team will now play against USA for the bronze medal on Sunday. After discussing Friday’s loss, Fernández was already mentally shifting the focus to the next challenge at hand.

“What we need to do now is bounce back and be excited for this next game,” he said. “Me personally? I’m already excited. 10 minutes ago, I was really mad and now I’m really excited. We’re going to bounce back.”

Securing a spot at the 2024 Olympics as well as earning the chance to compete for a World Cup medal for the first time in program history shows the success that the program has had over the past month.

“These guys played really, really hard,” Fernández said. “We don’t have a lot of experience playing these games, myself first, and our group of guys, but if we keep doing what we’re doing I think we’ll be really good. I’m excited for our future, I'm excited for these guys and the young guys coming in.”

Canada’s bronze medal clash with USA is set for Sunday at 4:30 a.m. ET / 1:30 a.m. PT. Fans in Canada can catch all of the action live on Sportsnet and SN NOW.