What to Watch When U.S. Women’s Basketball Plays Japan for Olympic Gold
TOKYO – The women’s Olympic basketball tournament comes to a close on Sunday morning (late Saturday night in the United States) with a potentially unbalanced clash between the United States and Japan.
When the teams met earlier in this tournament, as a group, the Americans won by 17. In all aspects of the game – skill, speed, size, strength, to name a few – the United States. United should be superior.
But surprises happen. The Japanese will have home court advantage at home (all it’s worth in an arena devoid of paying spectators) and look for a huge upset to add another gold to the country’s impressive overall sum.
The Americans dominated.
A victory would extend a long period of American women’s dominance at the Olympics: the team has not lost a match in the tournament since 1992.
The Americans notched their 54th straight victory on Friday after beating Serbia, 79-59. They handed the ball to Brittney Griner (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Breanna Stewart (12 points, 10 rebounds) for easy baskets and could look to do the same against Japan. Griner shot 65.1% from the field in the team’s first five games.
The team weren’t happy to have made 17 turnovers, but they made up for it with their fierce defense.
“It wasn’t as clean and smooth as we would like,” coach Dawn Staley said afterward. “But at this point in the game you’re going to have to win a lot of different ways, and we’ve found a way to win.”
These are Sue Bird’s last Olympics.
Sunday’s final could represent the end of the road for two longtime superstars: Sue Bird has said these Olympics will be her last, while Diana Taurasi has hinted at it.
“Last dance, baby!” Taurasi shouted as she returned to the locker room after the team won in the semi-final.
The two are aiming for their fifth gold, which would set a new career record for gold for an Olympic basketball player.
“Sue and Dee, what they’ve done for USA Basketball is extremely special,” Stewart said last week. “The fact that they are aiming for five consecutive gold medals is insane.”
Expect 3 points from Japanese players.
The Japanese will place their hopes on their ability to connect from a distance. They lead all teams in 3-point shooting, with a rate of 40.9%.
The Americans will need to keep an eye out for two snipers in particular: Yuki Miyazawa drained 19 3 points in this tournament and Saki Hayashi made 17. (The second-highest individual total of the tournament belongs to Kim Mestdagh, who has some made 10 before Belgium was eliminated in the quarter-finals.) Miyazawa shoots 45.2% from 3 points, while Hayashi shoots 50.0%.
Japan looked fluid on offense in a convincing 87-71 semi-final victory over France. Rui Machida orchestrated the performance from the point guard, distributing 18 assists.
The Japanese team will not have much experience to draw on: this is the first time they have reached the medal round in basketball.
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