VICTORIA — Putting up nearly 100 points against a basketball powerhouse may have come as a shock to most hoop fans, but not to Canadian forward Kelly Olynyk.
Canada’s national men's team recorded an impressive 99-87 win over world No. 7 Argentina in FIBA 2023 World Cup qualifying play in the Americas group on Thursday night at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Canada, ranked No. 18 by FIBA, improved to 7-0 in Group E play. The win 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.
“We can score. We have a lot of talent and it doesn’t surprise me a ton,” said Olynyk of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. “We can score with the best of them and we probably could’ve had more. We missed some easy ones. I know I did.”
Olynyk, of Kamloops, B.C., 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.
The key was good starts to both halves, Olynyk offered.
“That helped us out. We were locked in at the beginning. We pushed our lead to 20 (in the second quarter) and it gave us a bit of a cushion,” he said.
Canada is pooled in the second round of World Cup qualifying with Venezuela (6-1), Argentina (5-2), Dominican Republic (5-2), Panama (2-5) and Bahamas (2-5).
The win, although challenging, kept Canada atop the group as it aims to pad its record when it next travels to Panama for a game on Monday.
“This is probably our biggest challenge playing a team like this,” said Canadian head coach Nick Nurse, of the Toronto Raptors. “They’ve got something we’re trying to build which is longevity, experience and chemistry and that goes a long way in this game. We’ve seen it, we’ve faced it, we’ve felt it.”
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.
A late three-pointer from Gilgeous-Alexander and a couple of free throws from Olynyk with two seconds remaining gave Canada a healthy 52-39 lead at halftime.
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. He finished with a game-high 30 points.
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.
It was an aggressive showing all the way around for the Canadians.
“We were aggressive tonight and that’s why we came out on top,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
“That’s a very good country,” added Olynyk. “Any time you have that team in your home building, or anywhere, they’re going to put up a good fight.”
This is 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.
THREE-POINTERS: Raptors and Canada superfan Nav Bhatia was even in the house, among the crowd. … Former Victoria Vikes greats Eli Pasquale and Cord Clemens were honoured during the third quarter. Both passed away in the last three years.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.
Mario Annicchiarico, The Canadian Press