Carleton's 27-point effort leads Canada to dominant win over Mali at FIBA World Cup
Women play Thursday quarter-final against Puerto Rico, which makes tourney history
Bridget Carleton poured in 27 points to lead Canada's women's basketball team to an 88-65 over Mali at the FIBA World Cup on Tuesday.
The victory guaranteed a crucial top-two finish in Group B for the Canadians, who will avoid both the United States (5-0) and China (4-1) in Thursday's quarter-finals in Sydney, Australia. Instead, they will face Puerto Rico, which beat South Korea 92-73 to reach the quarters for the first time.
Kayla Alexander had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the No. 4 Canadians (4-1), in their final game of the preliminary round. Kia Nurse and Aislinn Konig added 11 points apiece.
Carleton, a forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, also grabbed eight rebounds.
"I love to see the confidence that everyone else now gets to see [in] Bridget Carleton," said Canadian captain Natalie Achonwa, who also plays for the Lynx. "She's always been explosive. She's always been a shooter and 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 as well, who I've known that Bridget Carleton has been all this time."
WATCH | Carleton powers Canada past Mali:
Canada's quarter-final opponent was to be determined by games later Tuesday.
Carleton opened the game with back-to-back three-pointers and Canada never trailed, building a 17-point lead in the first quarter over Mali, which was a last-minute replacement for Nigeria. The Canadians led by 24 at the halftime break, and took a 24-point lead into the fourth quarter.
"I was really happy with how we approached the game," Achonwa said. "These are the kinds of games that can get you caught up. Fifth game in six days. The mentality we took coming in to respect our opponents and to come up with our best effort was shown today."
The Canadians' one loss in Group B came to host Australia. They beat Serbia, France and Japan.
The semifinals are Friday and the medal games on Saturday.
Canada has a pair of women's World Cup bronze medals, in 1979 and '86.
Puerto Rico secures final playoff berth
Elsewhere, Mya Hollingshed scored 29 points and Arella Guirantes added 18 to lead Puerto Rico on the final day of pool play.
Puerto Rico (2-3) scored the game's first 18 points, including 10 by Hollingshed, and never looked back. The team secured the final spot in the quarter-finals that begin Thursday.
"My shot was falling," Hollingshed said. "I looked up and they hadn't scored yet."
After the final buzzer sounded, the Puerto Rican players were dancing and celebrating their accomplishment.
In other games Tuesday, the U.S. routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59; China beat Belgium 81-55; Serbia edged France 68-62 and Australia defeated Japan 71-54.
The U.S. and Australia finished No. 1 in the two pools. China and Canada were the No. 2 seeds. Belgium and Serbia were the three seeds, while France and Puerto Rico were fourth.
I hope [our win] brings some joy to the country and that's all we want to do.— Player Tayra Melendez on Puerto Rico being ravaged by Hurricane Fiona
The Puerto Rican players and coaches hope advancing to the quarters will provide some joy to the island ravaged by Hurricane Fiona.
"Making history now for us, with what our country is going through right now with Hurricane Fiona. It's monumental and I hope that it brings some joy to the country and that's all we want to do, through basketball bring some joy," said Tayra Meléndez.
The team was winless in its three games at the 2018 World Cup, losing by an average of nearly 28 points. The team wasn't even supposed to be in the tournament, but was given a spot when Russia wasn't allowed to compete following its invasion of Ukraine.
With files from The Associated Press