Jordi Fernandez leads Team Canada to first World Cup semifinal berth

Sep 6, 2023, 9:59 AM

Head coach Jordi Fernandez of Canada walks off the court after the FIBA Basketball World Cup quarte...

Head coach Jordi Fernandez of Canada walks off the court after the FIBA Basketball World Cup quarterfinal victory over Slovenia at Mall of Asia Arena on September 06, 2023 in Manila, Philippines. Canada won 100-89. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

(Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Luka Doncic argued with the referees all night. And that’s why he wasn’t around in the final minutes, as Canada clinched a trip to the Basketball World Cup semifinals.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points, RJ Barrett added 24 and Canada topped Slovenia 100-89 on Wednesday night. The win sends Canada into a semifinal matchup with Serbia on Friday.

“It’s an honor,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after Canada’s first World Cup semifinal berth was clinched. “It’s an honor in itself. But we’re not satisfied.”

Doncic had 26 points for Slovenia, but was ejected with 6:37 left after picking up his second technical of the game — both of them coming after he argued with referees over calls or non-calls. Slovenia was down by 15 at the time and wound up getting within nine shortly after Doncic departed, but it wasn’t enough.

Doncic returned to the court, in flip-flops instead of sneakers, as time expired to congratulate Canadian players.

“Playing for the national team, it’s a lot of emotions. A lot of times I don’t control myself, which I’ve been having problems with,” Doncic said. “But you know, the referees told one of the guys they’re not going to call a foul on him because he’s coming at us. I think this is not fair. I know I complained a lot, but I don’t think it’s fair. They’ve been playing very physical with me, but if you say that, it’s not fair.”

Canada — which saw Dillon Brooks ejected shortly before Doncic departed, also after a technical — will play Serbia in Friday’s semifinals, with the U.S. and Germany set to meet in the other semifinal. The winners of those games will play for the World Cup on Sunday night.

Brooks met his teammates in the hallway by the locker room after the game, wearing boxing gloves and punching the air. Indeed, Canada has been a fighter so far at this World Cup. And Doncic — who lauded the way Brooks played — didn’t have a chance to land a knockout blow.

“Guys like him, they can get hot. … But we wore him down,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.

Slovenia was bidding to make the World Cup semifinals for the first time since gaining its independence in 1991. Slovenia will play Lithuania on Thursday in the start of the consolation playoffs that will be used to determine fifth through eighth place.

The win was big for Canada, and big for Germany and Serbia. The top two finishers from Europe are guaranteed automatic berths into the Paris Olympics — and with Slovenia now assured of finishing no better than fifth, while Germany and Serbia cannot finish lower than fourth, it’s those two nations who’ll be heading to France next summer.

Slovenia still has a chance at the Olympics, but will have to win a qualifying tournament next July.

Canada won the silver medal at the 1936 Olympics — and in 22 trips to the Olympics or what’s now called the World Cup since, it has not added to that medal collection. And no matter what happens the rest of the way in Manila, this will be Canada’s best World Cup finish; it was sixth at the tournaments in 1978 and 1982.

The first half couldn’t have been more even. It was 50-50 after 20 minutes — Canada won the first quarter 26-24, Slovenia won the second quarter 26-24, the biggest lead for each team in the half was exactly four points, and even the rebound total was tied 14-14 at the break. Back and forth they went, with 18 lead changes and six ties in those opening two quarters.

Canada changed everything with a 19-5 run to start the third quarter and kept the lead the rest of the way. It wound up shooting 33 free throws to Slovenia’s 19.

“Congratulations to Canada,” Doncic said. “They played great.”

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