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Carleton scores 19 points, Canada beats Japan to remain undefeated at FIBA World Cup

Canadians next play Australia on Monday, then Mali on Tuesday
In this Novermeber 2019 file photo, Canada’s Aaliyah Edwards (15) goes up for the shot against the Dominican Republic during second half action of FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre Qualifying Tournaments Americas 2019, in Edmonton. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Canada’s women’s basketball team continues to pick up steam at the FIBA World Cup.

Bridget Carleton scored 19 points while Kayla Alexander grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Canadian women beat Japan 70-56 on Sunday to remain undefeated and clinch a berth in the quarterfinals.

“That was a big game for us,” Carleton said. “That’s a tough team, they’re hard to play against, they’re fast, they like to shoot the three-ball so it’s a tough matchup, but definitely good to come away with the win.

“And it felt good to see some shots go in for me,” she added with a smile.

Shay Colley added 13 points and seven rebounds, Laeticia Amihere finished with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists for the No. 4 Canadians (3-0). Carleton, a forward for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, also had six rebounds.

Maki Takada scored 11 points to lead eighth-ranked Japan (1-3), the reigning Olympic silver medallists.

The Canadians next face Australia (2-1) on Monday, then wrap up the preliminary round against Mali (0-3) on Tuesday. Their victory on Sunday will mean avoiding the United States (3-0 in Group A) in the quarters.

“I am very proud of my players because we are growing up as a team,” said head coach Victor Lapena. “Just congratulations to my players because today was a master class to have the control of the game, and it’s because they are very ready to do it.”

Lapena, a Spaniard and longtime coach of that national program, was hired by Canada Basketball in January after the team’s disappointing first-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Canadians, who’ve twice won World Cup bronze — in 1979 and ‘86 — lost to Japan in World Cup qualifying a few weeks after the Olympics.

But the women have continued to mesh since gathering last month in Edmonton for World Cup preparations.

“I think we’re just seeing the benefit of all the time we put in over the last four weeks,” Carleton said. “And every game it’s a different challenge. Every single game, every team plays so differently. So, being able to adjust, trusting the coaching staff and what our scouting is on the defensive end, on the offensive end, it changes every single game, but we wholeheartedly believe in Victor and the coaching staff and what they want us to do.”

“It’s exciting to see the improvement,” she added. “We’re getting used to playing with each other, how Victor wants to play, and I think it will just continue to get better.”

Carleton scored Canada’s first five points after the team went scoreless for the first four minutes. The Canadians’ defence ignited their offence, and Canada took the lead for good, heading into the second up 20-12.

Japan sliced Canada’s lead to three points with 4:17 left in the first half, but the Canadians closed with a 13-0 run to lead 41-25 at the break. Canada’s smothering defence forced Japan into 10 first-half turnovers.

Canada kept up the momentum in the third quarter, and Carleton’s three-pointer with 1:19 to play sent the Canadians into the fourth with a 61-39 lead.

“Every game we go into we think we can win,” Carleton said. “We think we should win. Our goal is always to be on the podium so this is exactly where we want to be. 3-0. We’re going to enjoy this, but get some rest and recovery tonight because we have one (Monday) again against the home crowd in a tough environment.”

The Canadians opened the World Cup with a 67-60 win over Serbia and then beat France 59-45.

Australia defeated Serbia 69-54 earlier Sunday.

The Canadian Press

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