August 3, 2021 

USA Basketball seeks to avenge loss to Australia

Tokyo Olympic quarterfinals feature rematch of exhibition game

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Breanna Stewart. (Screenshot from USA Basketball avail)

In a matchup many people had pegged for the final, the U.S. will meet Australia, its arch rival for most of the 21st century, in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics at 12:40 a.m. ET Wednesday.

“You understand what is at stake when you get to the quarterfinals,” said five-time Olympian U.S. guard Diana Taurasi. “You can feel that tension. You can feel that pressure building. These are the moments where you either shy away from them, or you go out there and attack them.”

Australia has had its share of disappointment in the past month, beginning with the withdrawal of Liz Cambage, its star center who led the Rio Olympics and Tenerife World Cup in scoring. Even without Cambage, Australia managed to defeat the U.S. 70-67 in exhibition on July 16. The Opals opened the Games with a 15-point loss to Belgium and a two-point loss to China. They then needed a blowout win over Puerto Rico to grab a final qualifying spot based on point differential and delivered with a 96-69 triumph highlighted with Marianna Tolo’s 26 points and 17 rebounds.

“I think it’s great for us to have a familiar opponent,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “It’s fresh in our minds, especially because we lost. We like to perform and finish a lot better than the 40-minute play. We want to allow what we’ve done in the past couple of weeks to help us in situations in which we build a big lead, we can hold onto it, or if we find ourselves down, we know that there are stretches where we play great, we have to string ourselves together to play good basketball. We know it’s a formidable opponent, and I am sure we are both looking forward to playing each other.”

Led by A’ja Wilson’s 20 points and 10 rebounds, the U.S. ran the table through three tough wins over Nigeria, Japan and France, erasing a deficit in each. Wilson, who turns 25 on Sunday, is continuing to establish herself as one of the world’s top players.

“A’ja is just so dynamic,” Taurasi continued. “The way she can score on the block is second to none in the world right now. She’s been so impressive on the boards. Times when we stalled a little bit offensively, she’s got us out of some tough situations.”

The day of quarterfinal action begins with undefeated China and Serbia at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday. China is shooting 50 percent from the floor in the tournament, about equal to the U.S. for the event’s lead. Serbia is getting a balanced attack from its five starters, all scoring between nine and 13 per game.

The hosts Japan will meet Belgium at 4:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Japan has averaged 13 of 34 three-point shooting, with a high of four per game off the hands off Saki Hayashi. Rui Machida’s 12 assists per game are most in the event, five more than second-place Sue Bird, and she equaled Teresa Edwards’ single-game record from 25 years ago in her recent game with 15. Belgium’s Emma Meesseman is scoring an Olympic-best 27.3 points per game and is tied with Breanna Stewart for second in rebounding behind Korea’s Park Ji-Su with 10.3.

Eternal rivals Spain and France will play at 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Astou Ndour of undefeated Spain is second in the Olympics with 22.7 points per game. France’s Gabby Williams led all players in the group stage with 13 steals.

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.

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