Canada made its first Women's Basketball World Cup semifinal in 36 years — now comes the hard part
The American Death Star awaits in the final four
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Last night's 79-60 win over Puerto Rico gave Canada its first trip to the semifinals of the Women's Basketball World Cup since 1986. To put that timespan in perspective, the '86 tournament (then known as the World Championship for Women) was played in the Soviet Union and no one on Canada's current roster had been born yet. The Canadians lost their semifinal to the eventual-champion United States but went on to win the bronze medal by beating Czechoslovakia. Canada's leading scorer in that game, Bev Smith, is now 62 years old.
Leading the way for Canada last night was 26-year-old guard Kia Nurse, who scored a team-high 17 points (on 6-of-12 shooting) with four rebounds and a pair of assists. This tournament is the first action for Canada's most productive WNBA player since she tore an ACL nearly a full year ago, causing her to miss the Phoenix Mercury's entire season. Nurse has started all six Canadian games and, with the exception of a blowout win over Mali in the group-stage finale, has seen her minutes steadily increase with each outing. Her 17 points and 24 minutes last night were both personal highs for the tournament.
Four other Canadians scored in double figures against Puerto Rico, led by Bridget Carleton with 15. The 25-year-old forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx is Canada's leading scorer, averaging 14.8 points per game. Thirty-one-year-old Canadian centre Kayla Alexander, who grabbed 13 boards vs. Puerto Rico, is the tournament's second-leading rebounder with 11.7 per game.
Everything seems to be clicking for Canada, which is 5-1 in its first tournament under new head coach Víctor Lapeña, the Spaniard hired to replace Lisa Thomaidis after her fourth-ranked team failed to advance past the group stage at the Olympics last summer. Still No. 4, Canada's only defeat at the World Cup was a narrow 75-72 decision vs. third-ranked host Australia in the group stage.
WATCH | Canada advances to semifinals after defeating Puerto Rico:
Things are about to get real, though. Canada's opponent for its semifinal game on Friday at 3 a.m. ET is the United States — a Death Star of a squad whose entire 12-person roster is made up of WNBA players (Canada has three: Nurse, Carleton and centre Natalie Achonwa). The Americans have reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson, former MVP Breanna Stewart, this year's Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, and recent U.S. collegiate player of the year Sabrina Ionescu, plus a bunch more all-stars.
Last night's 88-55 quarter-final win over Serbia was the United States' 28th consecutive victory in the World Cup (they haven't lost in this event since 2006). By American standards, that was actually a close game. They won their five group-stage "contests" by an average of 46 points. In addition to winning the past three World Cups, the U.S. is on a run of seven straight Olympic gold medals.
To be blunt, Canada's odds of beating the U.S. are not good. The betting markets illustrate the cold reality: the Americans are favoured by 23.5 points, and the moneyline prices imply Canada has just a 6 per cent chance of winning the game.
The good news is that, even if the Canadians lose, they'll still get to play for a medal. The third-place game goes Friday at 11 p.m. ET vs. the loser between Australia and seventh-ranked China. The final is Saturday at 2 a.m. ET. The winner of that game earns a spot in the 2024 Olympics. Everyone else must go through qualifying tournaments. Read more about Canada's quarter-final win over Puerto Rico and watch highlights here.