Photo Couresy of:

Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Gilgeous-Alexander leads Canada's charge past Slovenia and into FIBA World Cup semis

MANILA, Philippines (Sept. 6, 2023) – Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team is headed to the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023 semifinals. After taking down Slovenia 100-89 in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, Canada will advance to the semifinals for the first time and are guaranteed their best-ever finish at a Men’s World Cup.

“Congratulations to these guys, they just made history,” Team Canada head coach Jordi Fernández told reporters after the game. “This is the best position so far that Canada has qualified (at a World Cup). Congrats to our guys, congrats to the country and congrats to Canada Basketball.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was sensational once again, leading all scorers with a game-high 31 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. He shot 8-for-12 from the floor and 14-for-16 from the line, scoring nine of his 31 in the fourth. R.J. Barrett added 24 points to go with nine rebounds and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Dillon Brooks added 14 points each.

“Congratulations to Canada,” Slovenia’s Luka Doncic said. “They played great. A very physical game. They have one of the best players in the world, so it was really tough to guard him.”

Doncic finished with a team-high 26 points on 8-for-20 field goals, but Brooks frustrated Slovenia’s star before an unexpected stretch in the fourth quarter that saw Brooks getting ejected during a timeout and then Doncic getting tossed shortly afterward for arguing a perceived non-call at the midway point of the fourth quarter.

"I think he’s the best defender, (along) with Lu Dort, the best perimeter defender in this competition,” Fernández said of Brooks. “Today was a defensive clinic of leading with his hands, leading with his chest, showing his hands, pressuring full-court, and if you don’t think that, you don’t like basketball.”

Canada out-rebounded Slovenia 38-30 and held a 23-7 edge in fast-break points. The Canadians finished the game shooting 51 per cent from the floor while holding Slovenia to 44 per cent shooting.

“Tonight was a fight and these guys executed at a high level,” Fernández said. “I think we pushed the pace for 40 minutes and it went our way. I want to give all the credit to these guys.”

After an extremely close first half that featured 18 lead changes, the game was tied at 50-50 at the break. Once again, Canada used a strong start to the third quarter to take control. After opening the second half on an 11-2 run, a pair of free throws from Gilgeous-Alexander extended his team's lead to double figures for the first time. After another pair of free throws, this time from Barrett, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the third, Canada led by 12 with 4:48 remaining in the quarter.

“I think what you see from our team is that it could be anybody,” Barrett said. “Of course, Shai is the head of the snake, he’s always going to do what he does, but it could be anybody. Last game, it was Dillon. The game before that, Lu played well. It could be anybody on any given night and I think that’s one of our strengths.”

A three from Alexander-Walker put Canada up 80-64 with less than two minutes remaining in the third, but Slovenia closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to get back within single digits, 80-71, heading into the final frame.

Canada opened the fourth with a three-point play for Barrett. After a steal from Alexander-Walker and a foul drawn by Gilgeous-Alexander, Canada’s lead was back up to 16. A three from Brooks gave Canada a 92-76 lead as Slovenia called a timeout with 7:06 remaining, but that's when Brooks was called for a tech and was ejected from the game. At the 6:37 mark, Doncic was, in turn, also ejected.

“I think we just kept coming,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of how the team tried to slow Doncic. “We have two high-level defenders, two of the best in the world at their positions. We just wanted to keep throwing bodies at him, keep throwing him different looks. Obviously, a player of that calibre, you want to keep mixing things up for him.”

After a three from Klemen Prepelic and then a steal and score from Gregor Hrovat, Slovenia had trimmed Canada’s lead down to 11 as Canada called a timeout with 4:43 remaining. After a miss from Barrett out of the timeout, a second layup for Hrovat brought Slovenia within single digits once again, but he fouled out on the next possession.

The final three minutes featured Gilgeous-Alexander doing it all. First, there was a basket that fell despite being bumped, extending Canada’s lead to 11 with 3:08 remaining. Then there were back-to-back offensive rebounds, Gilgeous-Alexander crashing the glass and getting rewarded with free throws where he made both to extend the lead to 13 points with 2:17 remaining as Canada went on to victory.

“It's just a drive to win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of his ability to take over down the stretch. “That’s what we come here for. That’s why I play basketball. That’s why the team plays basketball. That’s why you should play basketball. To win games at the highest level. Whatever it takes to do so at the end of the game is what myself and the rest of the guys try to do.”

Next up for the Canadians is a meeting against Serbia in the semifinals on Friday at 4:45 a.m. ET / 1:45 a.m. PT. Fans in Canada can catch all of the action live on Sportsnet and SN NOW.