Canadian women drop world under-19 basketball semifinal

Canadian players cheer during Friday's quarter-final win over China at the world under-19 women's basketball championship in Udine, Italy.
Canadian players cheer during Friday’s quarter-final win over China at the world under-19 women’s basketball championship in Udine, Italy.  (Twitter)  

Canada ran into a formidable obstacle on its path to making basketball history.

The national under-19 women’s team was handily beaten, 65-41, in the world championship semifinals on Saturday by an excellent Russian team and now has to regroup to challenge for the first Canadian medal ever at the competition.

Now 5-1 in the tournament, Canada will face Japan on Sunday (12:30 p.m. Eastern time) with the bronze medal at stake.

Japan lost 73-66 to the United States in Saturday’s second semifinal in Udine, Italy. The Americans and Russians play for gold on Sunday afternoon.

Canada has never won a medal at a world junior championship. The last one for a Canadian women’s team at any global championship was bronze at the 2012 under-17s.

The Canadians, coached by Carly Clarke of Ryerson University, had displayed uncanny composure through the first five games. They had upset 2016 European champion France in the first round, finished strongly to hold off Latvia to cap an unbeaten first round, and rallied from a big third-quarter deficit to beat China in Friday’s quarter-finals. But their hopes of playing for a gold medal were dashed early by Russia, the best team Canada has seen at the tournament by a substantial margin.

“When you get to this point in a world championship, the games get increasingly tougher,” Clarke said. “Russia came out very prepared, shot well in the first half and just outplayed us. Their physicality influenced our play and we weren’t able to bounce back.”

The winners made nine three-pointers in the first half alone, leaping out to a 43-17 halftime lead they easily nursed home. Russia — behind 23 points from Raisa Musina, plus 13 points and 11 rebounds from Maria Vadeeva — ended up shooting 11-for-22 from three-point range and just 11-for-50 from inside the arc.

Held to its lowest points output of the tournament, Canada could get nothing going offensively. They managed just seven points in each of the second and third quarters, and shot just 26 per cent from the field.

“We got away from what was working for us, which was playing as a team,” said forward Alyssa Jerome. “Russia is a great team and we struggled against them.”

Japan has the third-most prolific offence in the 16-team tournament, behind the U.S. and Russia. Japan averages just less than 80 points per game, while Canada averaged 65.3 in its first six games.