Canada’s last podium appearance at a major senior basketball tournament was in 1986, a bronze at the women’s World Cup.
You have to go back 50 years before that, to the 1936 Olympics, for the men’s team’s last medal — silver after a 19-8 loss to the U.S. amid a rainstorm in Nazi Germany.
But with one more win at the 2023 men’s World Cup, those droughts will be over.
Canada beat Slovenia 100-89 in the quarterfinals in Manila on Wednesday, guaranteeing it will play for a medal for the first time ever at this tournament. The Canadians will next meet Serbia, which crushed Lithuania on Tuesday, with a spot in the championship game on the line on Friday.
WATCH | Canada tops Slovenia to reach semis:
Canada dominates Slovenia on the way to the FIBA World Cup semifinals
Canada’s men’s basketball team, led by a 31 point performance by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, defeat Slovenia 100-89 and will face Serbia in the FIBA World Cup semifinals on Friday.
The other semifinal pits the U.S. against Germany, which beat Latvia 81-79 earlier on Wednesday.
“I think that we’re showing that we’re such a hard-working team that when we come together and do the right things and listen to what coach is telling us to do, we can be special,” said R.J. Barrett, who was second on the team with 24 points.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, of Hamilton, Ont., once again led a high-powered Canadian scoring attack with 31 points, to go with team highs of 10 rebounds and four assists.
Along with Barrett, of Mississauga, Ont., Gilgeous-Alexander keyed yet another third-quarter explosion for Canada, turning a halftime tie into a 16-point lead around halfway through the frame to take control of the contest as Slovenia, led by NBA superstar Luka Doncic, seemed to turn its attention to the referees.
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But as in previous games, Canada kept its eyes on the prize while storming out of the halftime gates, just like in wins over France, Latvia and Spain in the opening rounds of the tournament in Indonesia.
“It’s not just Shai. … I think our guys today like Dillon [Brooks], his role today, he did at a high level. R.J., Kelly [Olynyk]. At the end of the day, like The Arkells say, this team is relentless, and we showed it in Jakarta, and we’re showing it here too,” said Canadian head coach Jordi Fernandez.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the cousin of Gilgeous-Alexander, and Brooks added 14 points apiece.
“I think what you see from our team is it can be anybody. Of course Shai is the head of the snake, he’s always going to do what he does. But just in terms of everybody else, last game it was Dillon. The game before that Lu [Dort] played well. It could be anybody on our team that has that night and I think that’s one of our strengths,” said Barrett, who was just shy of a double-double with nine rebounds.
After sparking Canada’s thrilling three-point win over Spain, Brooks put together his second straight dominant defensive performance, hounding Doncic into an eight-for-20 shooting night.
“Dillon played great. He was very physical, like he always [is]. I know a lot of people don’t like him, but I respect him for what he does, and he does that stuff really good,” Doncic said.
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The red and white came away with an 88-85 nail-biting victory to advance to the quarterfinals, as well as clinch a spot in the 2024 summer Olympic Games in Paris.
Brooks, Doncic ejected
Doncic still led his side with 26 points and five assists, but he was ejected less than a minute after Brooks in the fourth quarter. Brooks, the Mississauga, Ont., native, was assessed a disqualifying foul before Doncic’s incessant arguing led to him also being tossed with his second technical foul.
Doncic, whose team went on an 8-1 run after he exited the game, later said the officials were “unfair.”
“I think everybody knows what my frustration was. Playing for the national team, it’s a lot of emotions. A lot of times I had to control myself, which I’ve been having problems with,”‘ he said.
Brooks, who carries a villainous reputation in the NBA, greeted his Canadian teammates in the locker room after the game throwing air punches with boxing gloves on his hands.
“We need him on the court. He cannot get disqualified. We have to have better composure as a team,” Fernandez said. “After that, with Lu Dort, he’s the best perimeter defender in this competition, so I think today it was a defensive clinic. … And if you don’t think that way, then you don’t like basketball.”
Still, Slovenia head coach Aleksander Sekulić said the Canadian team is the full package.
“Canada have a hell of a team. … They have everything they need to go all the way. I think they can match up with the United States, but we’ll see.”
With the loss, Slovenia will be relegated to a last-chance qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympics, while Germany and Serbia clinch the European berths along with host France.
Canada already booked its Olympic spot with the victory over Spain.
Perhaps, by the time they land in France next summer, the Canadians will be looking to add to a growing medal collection.