Kayla Alexander scored 13 points and hauled down seven rebounds to lead Canada past Serbia 67-60 in its opener at the 2022 FIBA women’s Basketball World Cup.
Nirra Fields, a guard from Montreal, scored 12 for Canada and Guelph, Ont., forward Natalie Achonwa added 10.
On the Serbian side, veteran guard Yvonne Anderson led all scorers with 18 points while centre Tina Krajisnik finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
The victory was an important confidence-booster for a Canadian team taking its first steps in a major international competition under the watch of new head coach Victor Lapena, a longtime coach with Spain’s national women’s program.
“Congratulations to my players and [I’m happy] in the trust they put in me in some very important details against Serbia,” Lapena told reporters after the game.
“Now we just need to rest and to start thinking about the next game because, yes we started the tournament 1-0 and are very happy, but the next one is the most important.”
Canada entered the World Cup as the fourth-ranked team in the world. Serbia was ranked No. 10. The tough tests will continue for Canada in group play as it’ll see No. 6 ranked France next Friday at 4:00 a.m. ET.
Every win matters for Canada during this group phase. Of the six teams in it, only four will advance through to the quarterfinals, and the better you perform during this preliminary round the better seeding you’ll get.
Here’s a few takeaways from a big tournament-opening victory from Canada’s women in Sydney.
Alexander looks to be back
While the lead-up of the game was primarily focused on the return of another player (we’ll get to her down below), it was another return of sorts that proved to be the biggest difference-maker for Canada.
Forward Kayla Alexander has been a fixture on the national team for about four years now but, unfortunately, those years have been plagued by untimely injuries that have both limited her effectiveness when she’s been able to suit up for Canada or kept her off the court entirely.
Against Serbia, however, the 31-year-old looked to be back to her old self as she and fellow starting frontcourt-mate Achonwa created a formidable duo underneath the basket for Canada.
“I’m super happy because she’s one of our leaders,” Lapena said of Alexander’s performance. “Maybe she doesn’t talk too much, her voice, [but] she speaks with her teammates. Everybody is, ‘Kayla talked about it, let’s do it.’”
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Nurse makes immediate impact in return
The biggest Canadian storyline heading into the game was the return of Kia Nurse after she had been sidelined from basketball for 11 months with an ACL injury.
All she did upon her return was score nine points, scoring Canada’s first three points of the tournament by converting on a cutting layup after absorbing contact. She then finished off the three-point play at the free-throw line.
Nurse was limited to just under 19 minutes of action, but she appeared to show no ill effects from her long recovery from injury as she seemed to still have a lot of burst both with and without the ball.
New coach, same Canadian defence
One of the schools of thought when it came to bringing in Lapena was to add a head coach with not only a lot of international experience but one with a little more imagination offensively.
Seeing how, exactly, Lapena and his coaching staff might impact Canada’s offence compared to years past may take a little longer, though, because Canada beat Serbia with its old, classic style of getting it done on the defensive end.
Canada managed to hold Serbia to just 38 per cent shooting from the field and 3-for-17 from three-point range. Additionally, and more importantly, the Canadians turned Serbia over 19 times, leading to 20 points from those takeaways created.
Though a new coach is helming the ship, Canada’s identity still revolves largely around its athleticism, meaning anytime the team can get out and run it should have an advantage. There’s no better way to get out on the break than to create turnovers, and given the way Canada smothered Serbia, it’s an encouraging sign of things to come for the rest of the tournament.
If Canada can continue to put the clamps on opponents the way it did to Serbia, then it should still be able to create turnovers and get easy buckets. A winning recipe.