July 30, 2021
How U.S. size overcame Japan’s early hot shooting
A'ja Wilson records double-double in each of first two Olympic games
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Through Team USA’s first two games of the Tokyo Olympic Tournament, it is apparent, its opponents are not intimidated from the opening tip.
Despite no fans waving white flags with red suns at Saitama Super Arena, a highly-motivated Japanese team closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run to clutch a 30-28 lead, before the U.S. overpowered the second half for an 86-69 win. In the opening game, Nigeria had claimed a second-quarter lead before the U.S. won by nine.
“Everybody wants to make us uncomfortable,” U.S. forward Breanna Stewart said, “because if we’re comfortable, we are really hard to guard, so we need to continue to play with one another and make sure that ball is moving.”
Stewart (15 points and 13 rebounds) and A’ja Wilson (20 and 10) recorded double doubles, as the U.S. utilized its superior interior size in winning the rebounding battle 48-33.
“The rebounds are the things that are the most important in a majority of these games,” Stewart added, “because once we are able to rebound the ball, we can get out into transition and play the way we want to play. We knew Japan was going to shoot a lot of threes, a lot of a lot of long rebounds, so the fact we were able to clean up the boards was good.”
Japan shot 6-of-10 from three-point range in the opening quarter, before the U.S. limited it to 4-of-28 for the next three. Maki Takada, the only Japanese player who was born when the U.S. last lost a game in the Olympics in 1992, led her team with 15 points. The U.S. obliterated Japan, 110-64, in the 2016 Rio Olympic quarterfinals.
“What we’ve learned these past two games,” Stewart said, “is these teams don’t stop. No matter if the game is possibly out of reach, they’re not going to stop, no matter what because of the way it is broken down in the point differential and the standings.”
France beat Nigeria, 87-62, in the other Group B game on Friday to equal Japan at 1-1 in the standings. The U.S. takes on the French at 12:40 a.m. ET on Monday (9:40 p.m. Sunday) on USA Network. Japan plays Nigeria three hours earlier.
“France is a team all of us respect,” Stewart added. “We know how good they are and could be. They can shoot lights out, they have dominant post players, they have Gabby Williams (her former UConn teammate) bringing that versatility. It’s going to be physical and a grind. It’s important for us to get that win and carry on into the quarterfinals.”
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.