Canada’s national men’s basketball team responded to a solid test in defeating world No. 7 Argentina 99-87 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday night.
Coach Nick Nurse’s charges remain undefeated in FIBA 2023 World Cup qualifying play in the Americas group at 7-0. The 18th-ranked Canadians earned a key victory in Group E play which comes a year after a gut-wrenching overtime loss in the B.C. capital to Czechia, the country most commonly known as the Czech Republic, in an Olympic qualifier.
Kamloops, B.C., native Kelly Olynyk, of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, ignited a near-capacity crowd of almost 7,000 as he racked up 21 points. He finished just behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had a team-high 23.
After a strong showing in the first round, Canada is pooled in the second round of World Cup qualifying with Venezuela (5-1), Argentina (5-2), Dominican Republic (4-2), Panama (2-4) and Bahamas (2-4). Canada next travels to Panama for their matchup on Monday.
WATCH l Canada takes down Argentina in Victoria:
On Thursday, Canada got off to a nice start, running up a 28-21 lead after the first quarter. The hosts led 4-0 extremely early before Argentina — specifically Nicolas Laprovittola — started finding its range from the three-point line.
Olynyk, who drew the biggest cheer at introductions, came alive late with a handful of points as the home side grabbed a 21-16 advantage. Kevin Pangos then nailed a baseline jumper and added a three-pointer in the dying seconds of the first quarter for the seven-point lead.
Canada stretched the lead to 45-31 late in the second quarter, courtesy of three-pointers from Kassius Robertson and Melvin Ejim, which sandwiched a tricky spin-around baseline move from Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks.
Olynyk had 11 points at the half, followed by Gilgeous-Alexander with 10 and Powell with eight. Laprovittola had 21 of Argentina’s 39 points at the midway point, going 4-of-5 shooting from three.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz poured in back-to-back three-pointers early in the third quarter as Canada opened a 65-43 advantage. Having come out of the game early after a pair of quick fouls, he made his mark late in the third, before leaving again with his fifth foul.
This was a key juncture for Canada as the top three in each of Group E and F, and the top fourth-place finisher, will advance to the 30-team 2023 FIBA World Cup from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, 2023, in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
The World Cup is a direct qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Four final Olympic spots will also be decided in last-chance qualifiers, something Canada wants to avoid after suffering its fate last year.