6’7″ R.J. Barrett had 27 points including several spectacular finishes in transition and 6’7″ Abu Kigab flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists as Canada held off several French rallies with a 73-67 victory in the quarter-finals of the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Egypt.
Canada led comfortably throughout most of the second half, using a solid transition game, a combination of 2-3 zone and man-to-man and the special offensive play of Barrett in general to defeat one of the world’s top basketball countries and advance to the semi-finals for the first-time ever. Canada will meet the USA tomorrow in one of two championship round games, after the Americans defeated Germany 81-59 while Spain and Italy meet in the other semi.
Barrett got off to a tremendous start with an emphatic two-handed dunk on the first possession of the game and later added a couple of slams in transition. With his length and explosiveness, the lefty Barrett is a terror on the break in an up-and-down game which France, despite grabbing 17 offensive rebounds, allow with questionable transition “d”. The top rated player in his high school class clearly displays high-end offensive skills but this tournament has shown that there are areas of his game that could/need to improve not limited to his ability to consistently guard the ball (has shown a tendency to come out of his stance early) and consistently compete on the glass especially at the defensive end. But he is a special offensive talent who can break most every defender down and, especially when surrounded by knock-down shooters on the perimeter, can usually get to the rim with ease. France mainly used a combination of two very solid professional prospects to guard Barrett in 6’5″ Bathiste Tchouaffe, a broad shoulder, bulky wing and 6’7″ Abdoulaye N’Doye, who is long (7’0+ wingspan) and quick footed but Barrett on this day was superior.
Without question, 6’7″ Abu Kigab was a force inside and out for Canada, grabbing 15 rebounds and adding 17 points including a pair of transition 3’s early in the third quarter which gave the Canadians a double digit lead and some breathing room. Kigab, off to NCAA Final 4 participant Oregon this coming season, plays with an edge, competes on the glass and can also handle the ball in transition and shoot the open 3. His finishes in transition and slick passing ability (6 assists) was critical for Canada today.
France was led by the incomparable 6’10” Killian Tillie who was simply a man among boys inside all game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 17 boards including several of the 17 “o” boards that punctuated France’s dominance inside. Tillie, who just completed his freshman season at Gonzaga which included a 9 rebound performance in the NCAA title game against North Carolina, is a broad shoulder, skilled big man who finishes everything inside, scores with his back to the basket, passes it extremely well and can put the ball down from 15′ and in. Tillie has big time written all over him and should be a stud for the Zags for the next couple or three seasons. Tchouaffe has a chance to be a wonderful international three man who can stroke it, get to the rim and defend tough wings. Another promising big 6’11” Bastien Vautier is another burly power forward who had his way on the “o” glass as well as Canada’s bigs were admittedly dominated for most parts of the game.
Other notable contributors for Canada included 6’6″ Noah Kirkwood, who ran some point off the bench in the absence of 6’1″ Lindell Wigginton, who watched the game in street clothes, but more importantly brought a level of experience to these types of games that saw him finish the game as one of the final five. Kirkwood saw only 4 minutes in Canada’s loss to Spain on Sunday but coach Roy Rana went to the national program veteran early as his first sub off the bench, asking him to run the point – Kirkwood is more suited to the wing spot. Kirkwood can guard any position probably 1 through 4 and showed his maturation by competing on the glass, including two fourth-quarter boards in traffic and made a big three from the left baseline. Expect this underrated contributor to see more minutes in Canada’s final two games of the tournament.
A pair of U Sports recruits had solid efforts as 5’9″ Jordan Henry (Ryerson recruit) started in place of Wigginton and was steady bringing it up in most instances but turned it over late a couple of times and showed he still has some way to go to consistently break defenders down off the dribble to create real offense. Still, Henry was tremendous given he was thrust into the starting lineup in such a critical game. 6’11” Grant Shepherd (12 points, 5 rebounds, 17 minutes) was on the end of several nice feeds inside off creations by Barrett and others and helped put an exclamation point on today’s game with an ally-oop slam off a transition feed from Henry. Shepherd did generally struggle inside in tight quarters against the likes of Tillie and Vautier and still tends to play somewhat upright but UBC is getting a high quality big man who is athletic, runs the floor and shows a very nice perimeter shooting touch.
Canada gets set to face the USA with the knowledge that France created some offense when their guards pushed up on Henry, Kirkwood and others with token or organized pressure, leading to 20 turnovers and that the French bigs generally had their way inside on the offensive glass and finishing. Expect the Americans to pressure full court almost from the start and try to expose Canada on the offensive glass. But the USA will have to find a way to deal with the skill set of Barrett and an energized Canadian team hoping to lock up Canada’s first medal at a major world championship event in recent memory.