FIBA Women’s World Cup Takeaways: Nirra Fields dominates to keep Canada undefeated

After a 12-point performance in Canada’s opener of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, Nirra Fields took it one step further and put up a 17-point, six rebound performance as Canada dominated France 59-45.

It was a wire-to-wire win for Canada, and while it was a one-point game in the first quarter, Canada’s ability to go on scoring runs of as much as 17-0 helped it pull away from France.

Kayla Alexander put up a near double-double for Canada in the win with nine points and 14 rebounds, securing 12 of those boards by halftime. Shay Colley added another 11 points in a game where Canada shot just 29.4 per cent from the floor.

For France, a team with usual scoring power firing on all cylinders, Gabby Williams was its only scorer in double-digits with 13 points, and Marine Fauthoux’s five points in the second half showed signs of France’s resilience when trailing. Something we’ve seen many times before.

Canada now moves to 2-0 in the competition, remaining the only undefeated team in Group B, and is showing much better on the international stage than it did in previous FIBA competitions like the Tokyo Olympic Games or the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup.

Another tough test will come for Canada as it takes on Japan, the eighth-ranked team in the world, on Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET.

While Canada has essentially clinched its spot in the knockout stage, it still needs every point to count in order to avoid China or USA in the next round.

Here are a few takeaways from Canada’s full-game victory over France in Sydney.

Nirra Fields came clutch when Canada needed it

Canada struggled from the floor, but Fields’ 12 points in the second half and her 43.8 per cent shooting helped Canada sustain its lead into the second half as both teams struggled to shoot from long.

As Canada only scored 30 points in the second half, Fields kept up the intensity of Canada’s many scoring runs in order to help the team keep the lead, going 5-of-11 from the floor and hitting two triples as well.

Kia Nurse had five points in the first five minutes of the game, and Colley also hit two triples, but with just two scorers in double digits, Canada needed a player to carry the offensive load and Fields managed to do just that.

Part of the offensive boost on a 9-0 run to close out the half, Fields also tallied two steals as she continued to put pressure on France defensively. The opponents could not find an answer for her scoring, either.

Every time France put up a basket to attempt to come back in the game, Fields was there with a defensive play or responded with a basket of her own to keep the game out of reach.

“The players are going to be super tired the next day so… we will make it easier for them to execute, and they are doing a great job, a great job on defence and the attitude is perfect,” head coach Victor Lapena said.

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Kayla Alexander’s leadership is fuelling Canada

Alexander was part of the Canadian team that settled for fourth place at the AmeriCup, and again when Canada missed out on the knockout round in Tokyo. On this stage, with Canada able to compete for hardware with a talented roster, Alexander knows what’s on the line.

“We played really good team basketball today, especially on the defensive end, we were really locked in on the game plan, what the coaches asked of us,” Alexander said.

Securing 14 boards including eight on the defensive end, Alexander followed up an opening performance of 13 points against Serbia with a gritty performance on the glass as Canada out-rebounded France 56-38 and kept France to just five second-chance points.

“I like that we switch up our defences because it throws the opponents off track usually, it can get them out of their rhythm and it just shows as a team that we’re locked in and that we’re able to actually execute when coach throws something else out there,” Alexander said.

“So, I actually like being able to mix it up and throwing something different at our opponents, trying to get them up off their feet a bit.”

Getting fouled more often than her teammates due to her physical play, Alexander also hit five shots from the foul line, helping put up points when Canada struggled to find scoring naturally from the floor.

Her all-around play as a scorer, playmaker and defensive entity will be necessary once again against a Japanese team with dynamic scorers, size and hustle that will put more pressure on Canada.

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Gabby Williams shows what Canada needs to work on

Canada’s defence was solid in its game against France but could use some work from the mid-range game as well as physically in the paint. The team also allowed French guard Williams to score 13 points on 40 per cent shooting to keep France’s hopes alive.

Williams was one of the keys for France in its bronze medal triumph in Tokyo and proved once again why she is looked to as a leader for her national team in competitions of this calibre. Canada will have a whole team of scorers like Williams to face when it plays Japan.

France pushed Canada around in the paint, and while Canada is not the biggest team in the competition, it’s a team that has forces that can play with anyone in the world. Improving physicality will be particularly important against a team like the USA, which has many players who thrive from the post.

Keeping France to just 15.8 per cent shooting from beyond the arc was key to Canada’s success as it missed a potential 48 points on its own woeful 3-of-19 shooting from the three-point line, but Japan has high scoring abilities as seen in its dominant opening win against Mali.

Being able to frustrate Canada defensively was what ultimately kept France’s small hopes alive despite the fact Canada’s bench contributed 23 points. Canada committed turnovers and bad fouls, and the team will need to cut that down against a Japanese team that’s quick on the floor, moves the ball well and has size at the rim.

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