The Canadians were missing the majority of its superstar players and it resulted in an early exit from the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
Behind a team-high 24 points from former Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer, Canada lost game two of its group stage play to Lithuania by a score of 92-69. This comes two days after they fell in the opener to Australia, 108-92.
Without stud NBA presences from Canadian natives and former Wildcats Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Trey Lyles along with other absent pieces such as Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, and Tristan Thompson, Canada entered the tournament with a massive talent gap compared to the other members of its group.
Canada (who is ranked 23rd overall, according to FIBA) was also placed in Group H with two of the world’s top teams, Lithuania (ranked No. 6) and Australia (ranked No. 11), which surely didn’t help the cause. The team’s final group play game comes against Senegal (ranked No. 37), although both teams have officially been eliminated from further contention in the tournament.
Australia and Lithuania have both won its games against Canada and Senegal, moving them each to 2-0 and onto the second round no matter what happens when they play on Sept. 5.
Mirroring a similar situation that team USA is in, Canada’s lack of star power led to players like Wiltjer earning plenty of (somewhat unexpected) playing time. Despite a losing effort, the sharpshooter excelled in the role for his country.
After adding only six points and three rebounds in 20 minutes against the Australians, Wiltjer poured in 24 points on 7-11 shooting, including a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc against Lithuania. He was easily Canada’s best player during game two, but couldn’t get it done himself, especially against quality NBA bigs such as Jonas Valanciunas (Grizzlies) and Domantas Sabonis (Pacers).
“Obviously not the outcome our team wanted, so we have to learn from it, this isn’t the end of the tournament,” Wiltjer said. “So we’ve just got to continue to be positive as a program and just continue to work.”
Wiltjer currently plays his professional basketball in Turkey as a member of Türk Telekom.