August 1, 2021
Team USA will close Tokyo Olympic group stage against France
Former UConn guard Williams is among France's leaders
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With two wins attributed to its resume, the U.S. women’s basketball team closes the group stage of the Tokyo Olympics on Monday against France. France (1-1) can still clinch the group with a big win over the U.S. (tipping off at 12:40 a.m. ET/9:40 p.m. PT on USA Network), while Japan (1-1) and Nigeria (0-2) will meet earlier in the day at 9 p.m. ET Sunday night. The Japanese and Nigerians each tested the six-time reigning champion U.S. with leads after the first quarter.
“We take everybody’s best effort,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “A marathon isn’t won in the first mile, and the first quarter is the first mile to us. The adrenaline is flowing on both sides of the floor, and it’s hard to create separation. I don’t think it’s a slow start, it’s a fast start by other teams. You try to critique it, and you look at their bench and see quality players who have been together for a long time, and they are amped up to play you.”
A’ja Wilson is pacing the U.S. through its first two games with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Sue Bird is dishing an eye-popping 13 assists. Sylvia Fowles is recording nine points and five rebounds in her quest for a fourth gold medal.
“I am happy with the direction we have taken,” Fowles said. “We had a lot of concerns in the beginning with connectivity, but we are moving in the right direction, and I am loving every minute of it.”
Following a four-point loss to Japan in its first game, France responded with a 25-point win over Nigeria in its second. Sandrine Gruda is leading the French team with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Gabby Williams is third on France in scoring, second in rebounding and first in assists. Gruda won the 2016 WNBA title with Team USA’s Chelsea Gray, and Williams won two national titles at UConn with Breanna Stewart and one with Napheesa Collier.
“Gabby seems like she is very comfortable,” Staley added, “with what the expectations of what the French team wants her to do. They put the ball in her hands and she delivers for them when it’s time to get rebounds and stops. She is expanding her game, and when you are around other great players, you take your game to a new level, and Gabby has done that.”
Group A wrapped up play on Sunday morning, with Spain posting a 3-0 record, Serbia at 2-1, Canada 1-2 and Korea 0-3. Belgium and China are both 2-0 in Group C, with Australia and Puerto Rico winless. Canada is in the bonus in point differential, so it should take an advantage into qualifying for the quarterfinals as a top third-place team.
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.