For the first time in 14 years, Canada is one win away from a gold medal in men’s basketball at the Summer Universiade. Leaving nothing to chance, the Canadians never trailed on Sunday in their semifinal against Lithuania, winning 83-68 to advance to their first world university games final since 1997 in Sicily, Italy.
Canada (5-1) will face defending champion Serbia (5-1) on Monday at 9:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET) in its fifth final in 20 appearances at the FISU tournament. The game can be seen streaming on www.livefisu.tv.
The Serbians defeated Russia 81-61 in the other semifinal. The Canadians beat Serbia 70-67 in their second Pool B outing on Aug. 14.
“It’s fabulous,” said Team Canada bench boss Kevin Hanson of making the gold medal final. “These guys are all very focused, this is a mature group and we have been following that old cliché of ‘one game at a time.”
Ottawa native Tyson Hinz continued to be Canada’s go-to scorer and left the court with 21 points before fouling out late in the fourth, marking his third 20-plus point performance of the tournament.
“The guy is a winner, the fact that we are running everything through him isn’t a surprise to anybody,” said Hanson of his star forward. “He’s a bit undersized in the post, and a lot of people back home were questioning whether he can play internationally, and I think he is proving that he can right now.”
Hinz started slow, Lithuania keyed defensively on the reigning Canadian Interuniversity Sport player of the year, and he had only five points at the half. The Carleton University forward finished the game 6-for-14 from the field, including two three-pointers, and is averaging a team-best 16.2 points per game through six FISU contests.
“We are playing really well as a team and in particular we are defending well as a team,” said Hinz, who has led Canada in scoring in four of six games. “If they are going to key in on me, someone always steps up, whether it’s Boris [Bakovic], Warren [Ward], or someone else, we find a way.”
Lithuania (5-2) was perhaps suffering from an emotional and physical letdown after their 76-74 quarter-final upset of the United States on Saturday night and it showed in the first half, as the Canadians came out gunning. Toronto’s Bakovic scored the first eight points of the game for Canada, including two three-pointers, to open the quarter on an 8-to-2 run. The Canucks led 24-18 at the end of the first, and went into halftime up 39-29.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, as Jahmal Jones of Mississauga, Ont., gave the Canadians their biggest lead of the third following a lay-up with 5:35 left in the quarter (49-33). But on the play Jones lost control in the air and came crashing down to the court chin first. Jones was forced to leave the game to get three stitches, but returned in the fourth quarter to a resounding ovation from the crowd.
The loss of Jones killed some of Canada’s momentum. Lithuania was able to get within six points (53-47) before Ward, of London, Ont., connected on a three-pointer with under 20 seconds left to put Canada up by nine (56-47) heading into the fourth.
“It feels really good, hopefully we can bring home a gold for Canada,” said Jones with a red bandage covering his chin, the handiwork of team Canada trainer Geoff Mabey. “I’m a younger guy on this team and I look up to a lot of the other guys here. They have been to the [CIS] final eight, the Carleton guys have won it, and they have been a huge help to me. If they had said before the tournament that Canada was going to win a medal, they probably would have laughed, but we are proving them wrong.”
The Canadians didn’t let their opponent off the mat in the fourth, their advantage never shrinking to under nine points and increasing to 17 on four occasions.
Lithuania had entered Sunday’s game as the third highest scoring team in the tournament, averaging over 83 points a game. But Canada’s strength in Shenzhen has been its team defence, and the Canucks held their European foes to just 3-for-26 shooting from beyond the arc, while winning the battle of the boards 50-to-41.
Bakovic and Ward each walked off the court with 16 points, while Gediminas Zyle led Lithuania with 15.
NOTES: Canada’s previous final appearances at the Universiade came in 1983 in Edmonton, 1991 in England, 1993 in Buffalo and 1997 in Italy… The Canadians’ lone title came in 1983 thanks to an 83-68 win over Yugoslavia… The 1983 triumph had been set up by a victory over an American squad that included, among others, future NBA legends Karl Malone and Charles Barkley…
CANADA’S MEDALS IN MEN’S BASKETBALL AT THE UNIVERSIADE (8):
1983 (Edmonton, Canada): 83-68 win over Yugoslavia in final
1997 (Sicily, Italy)
1993 (Buffalo, USA)
1991 (Sheffield, England)
2007 (Bangkok, Thailand)
2003 (Daegu, South Korea)
1995 (Fukuoka, Japan)
1985 (Kobe, Japan)