TORONTO — The Canadian U23 women’s team started its GLOBL JAM journey with a 65-53 victory over Belgium on Tuesday at Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Aaliyah Edwards had a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double to lead all scorers in the win. Edwards shot 7-for-9 from the floor, and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line while adding two assists, a steal and two blocked shots in 30 minutes of action. Her impact on both ends of the floor changed the game for Canada during a crucial run in the third quarter.
“Having experiences being with the senior women’s national team, having a lot of older mentors, all of my big sisters really carry me up to that level,” Edwards said of holding a leadership role with this U23 team. “They’re now moving on with their professional careers, so for me to step up, which is what coach [Carly Clarke] has been harping on, to be a leader and guide the next generation, [it’s been amazing], for sure.”
Shy Day-Wilson added 18 points to go with five rebounds, two assists and four steals for Canada. She had a trio of three-pointers in the game, including a huge step-back three late in the fourth to keep Canada in control. Shaina Pellington added 13 points, four rebounds, two assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
Getting to rely on veterans like Pellington and Edwards to lead on court has been a big part of the vision that Clarke had for this roster.
“I think that’s a huge part of this tournament,” she said. “Giving them some of these opportunities to step up as leaders and have a prominent role and make some things happen out there. Especially after last summer, having an opportunity to be at the Olympics, now we need more.”
Belgium was led by a 13-point effort from Nastja Claessens and a 10-point performance from Ine Joris in the loss.
After a close first half, Canada led by three at the break.
The two teams went back and forth for much of the third, before Belgium took a 44-41 lead with 1:38 remaining in the quarter. Canada responded by reeling off a 20-4 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to go ahead 61-48 with 3:45 remaining in the game.
When a layup from Claessens brought Belgium back within single digits, Edwards responded with a layup to extend the lead back to 10 with 1:57 remaining.
“A lot of us just finished college basketball in May, so we’re all trying to get back into it, get a feel for the game again, get back into shape again,” Pellington said. “It’s always fun playing for your country and this time it’s really unique because I get to play at home. It’s a very unique opportunity that not many people get to have and I’m really grateful for it.”
Clarke wanted to see Edwards and Pellington embrace leadership roles on this team. With one game in the tournament down, they’ve already excelled at the challenge.
“I think both of them have had impactful moments at the senior level but for them to carry a little more load on their shoulders and insert themselves and have success [is important],” Clarke said. “We’ve had some turnover at the senior level so we’re going to have to move some people along in development and I think that’s happening.”
Up next for Canada is a meeting with the United States on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT on Sportsnet ONE.