Friday, 24 August 2007

Canada Clinches spot in Quarter-Finals

Building leads as large as 18, Canada moved to 2-1 in the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier tournament with a solid 93-83 victory over a hot shooting U.S. Virgin Islands team that had lost by over 60 points to the U.S. on Thursday night. 6'6" Juan Mendez (Niagara/Montreal, Quebec) once again had a strong offensive game for Canada with 22 points and 7 rebounds including 3 3's. Once again, 6'11" Samuel Dalembert was a difference-maker, especially defensively as he had 5 blocks plus several other shot-altering plays virtually every time an opponent tried to drive the lane or make a post move. Dalembert also had 15 points and 8 boards. But Canada Head Coach Leo Rautins was very happy with the play of the "other" player from Montreal: "Juan is a very explosive player, he is unique because he can play strong around the basket and can step out and shoot the three-point shot, he gets on the glass. He likes contact; he likes the physical play around the basket." Canada fought back from an early 27-23 deficit as the U.S. Virgin Islands knocked down seven 3's in the first quarter alone, including 3 3's by 6'5" Jason Edwin (Kent State) both in transition and against Canada's 2/3 zone. But Canada had a 10-0 run to start the second quarter as Mendez went to work and 6'5" David Thomas (Michigan State/Brampton, ON) did a fine job limiting Edwin's looks. Rautins was not happy with his team's defensive performance early on, commenting "They did a great job shooting the ball from the three, 13 of 24, that really kept them in the game. I was a little disappointed the way we came out defensively but we came out with intensity in that second quarter and changed the game." After 6'5" Denham Brown (Connecticut, Toronto, ON) knocked in a runner to give Canada a 13 point lead at 48-35 with 2:15 to play in the half, the U.S. Virgin Islands went on a mini 5-0 run but after Mendez (15 points in the first half) hit a 3 at the buzzer Canada went to halftime up 53-40. In all, the US Virgin Islands were 8-13 from downtown in the first half and they continued their hot shooting off the start of the third quarter and a 12-2 run culminated by a 15 footer off the dribble by Edwin allowed them to creep back to within 3 at 55-52. It was 59-56 with 4 minutes left in the quarter when Canada took off on 23-8 run bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters, culminated by a Mendez "and 1", to give Canada their biggest lead at 82-64. But U.S. Virgin Islands had one run left and led by Edwin and 6'0" Kevin Sheppard (Jacksonville) who finished with 23 points, the lead was cut to 7 with 4:11 left but Dalembert came up with a key block that led to 6'5" Carl English (Hawaii/Patrick's Cove, Newfoundland) icing the game with a 3 in transition off a feed from 6'2" Jermaine Anderson (Fordham/Toronto, ON), who had just 5 points but added 12 assists and 5 rebounds. 6'4" Ryan Bell (Carleton/Ottawa, ON), the lone CIS player on Canada's roster, saw 11 minutes of action including a long stint in the second half during which he drove the lane and fed Mendez for a dunk and later shot the gap in the passing lane for a steal and lay-in at the other end. Bell still has not turned the ball over in 31 minutes of play over 3 games. The U.S. Virgin Islands also got 13 points/6 rebounds from 6'5" Cuthbert Victor (Murray State-2003/04 Ohio Valley Conference Player-of-the-Year) and 10 points from 5'11" Carl Krauser (Pitt). Although Canada had a couple of opportunities to put the game away reasonably early, the game was never in doubt after early in the second quarter and Canada did what they had to do to earn a spot in the quarter-final round. But the Canadians have one more game in the preliminary round, tomorrow at 3 PM Eastern time against the host USA and their array of NBA stars. The game will be telecast LIVE! on the SCORE network. Canada vs. U.S. Virgin Islands Box Score

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