Basketball

Unbeaten Canadian men rout Mexico in basketball

Canada's men's basketball team blew out Mexico 96-76 Thursday at the Pan Am Games, improving its record to 3-0. The Canadians will face the U.S. or Brazil in Friday's semifinals.

Will face U.S. or Brazil in semis

Anthony Bennett scored 10 points in Canada's win over Mexico. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press )

Canada is one win away from a first ever medal in Pan American Games men's basketball play. And its move towards the podium has been a team effort.

Eleven Canadians scored Thursday, with 10 playing 12 minutes or more in a 96-76 win over Mexico as Andrew Nicholson's early foul trouble had coach Jay Triano looking down his bench early.

"Throughout the tournament, we've consistently played 10 guys and they're playing significant minutes," said Triano. "I think they've all had a factor in the games."

With top talent missing due to NBA summer league or contract issues, the depth has been welcome.

Brady Heslip, who scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter for Canada, led with 20 points and had four of Canada's 13 three-pointers. Jamal Murray (14), Nicholson (11) and Anthony Bennett (10) also finished in double figures.

Orlando Mendez led Mexico with 24 points.

Canada (3-0) came into the game having already secured a semifinal berth and knowing it had won Pool B barring a total collapse against the Mexicans (1-2). Argentina's earlier 80-70 win over the Dominican Republic left both teams at 1-2 and unable to catch Canada in the pool.

Canada will play the loser of Brazil versus the U.S., who met in the late game, in semifinal play Friday. The Brazil-U.S. winner will play the Dominican Republic, Pool B runner-up, in the other semi.

The Dominicans advanced out of a three-way logjam by virtue of points difference between the teams tied.

"It feels good to win the (pool) games but they don't matter now. Now it's a four-team tournament," said Triano. "Our focus has to turn to that right away. We know that there's two real good teams sitting in the other pool and we're going to play one of them."

Whatever happens, Triano has been able to test youngsters like Murray in the cauldron of senior international basketball, with the FIBA Americas tournament looming later this summer.

"Win or lose getting to this point, this has been great for our young players," he said. "To play in their own country and to get the experience that they have against veteran players, veteran international players.

"I mean look at these teams, they're not young like us. They're guys that have been around the block. They need to learn the international game and no better way to do it than against this type of team."

Six of the Canadian 12-man roster is 23 or younger. At 28, the average age of Mexico's team was four years more than Canada's.

Thursday's result means the Canadian men will at least equal their best performance at the Games — fourth in 1983. Their hope is to match the Canadian women, who struck gold here Monday.

There were a few empty seats at the Mattamy Athletic Centre but the crowd was vocal in its support for the home team.

Canada had foul trouble in Wednesday's win against Argentina and it looked like more of the same when Nicholson got two early fouls, including a technical, and went to the bench. But a 17-0 run late in the first quarter that saw the Mexicans miss seven straight shots, make three turnovers and commit five fouls had the Canadians ahead 27-16 going into the second.

A sloppy second quarter for both sides didn't change much, with Nicholson and Melvin Ejim exiting late in the going after drawing a third foul. Canada led 49-39 at the half.

Bennett was the high scorer for Canada with 10 points, seven via free throw, and seven rebounds in the half.

Canada extended the lead to 21 in the third as Mexico missed its first nine shots of the quarter. The Mexicans were down by 14 going into the final quarter.

Nicholson played 33:27 in the win over Argentina on Wednesday but was restricted to 18:16 against the Mexicans.

Triano wants Nicholson to play with emotion but to avoid fouls and, most importantly, not to talk to referees.

"I don't want him to walk around like a zombie. I want him to play with some passion, that's when he's at his best," he said of the Orlando Magic player.

Mexico is ranked 19th in the world compared to No. 25 for Canada although the numbers don't mean much here given most countries are not fielding their top squads.

Puerto Rico beat Venezuela 89-72 in the other early game.

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