August 6, 2021
What to watch for as Team USA, Japan meet for gold
'It's great to be playing for a gold medal'
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The U.S. women’s basketball team’s quest for a seventh-consecutive Olympic gold medal has reached its final stage. The team finds itself in the gold medal game after defeating Serbia, 79-59, in Friday’s semifinal.
The final, tipping off at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, will match the Americans with a familiar opponent in Japan, who tested the U.S. during its 86-69 win on July 29.
Serbia will play France in the bronze medal game for the second-straight Olympics at 3 a.m. ET Saturday. Serbia won the bronze, 70-63, over France in Rio.
“It’s great to be playing for a gold medal,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “If you look at what took place at the beginning of the month to where we are now, and the progression that has taken place, we find ourselves where we want to be.”
The U.S. kept the Serbians shooting to 30 percent, and Brittney Griner equaled Serbia’s Yvonne Anderson for the game lead with 15 points. Despite the 20-point victory and not trailing after the first five minutes, Staley still was troubled with her team’s offensive execution.
“Each game that we played, I thought there is something good about what we’ve done,” Staley added. “I thought our defensive effort was locked in. We made it really hard for Serbia to get open looks. I thought there were stretches from an offensive standpoint that we had some fluidity. I thought for the most part, offensively we were bothered. Part of that was us, part of that was Serbia applying a lot of pressure on us. We just didn’t handle that well.”
The Japanese team will play in the championship for the first time after its 87-71 win. Japan guard Machida Rui eclipsed a record she equaled earlier in the Games with 18 assists in the contest, and the team was 11-of-22 from downtown to deny a first-ever occurrence of the same men’s and women’s teams in the final.
The key for the U.S. in the final will be to limit Japan’s threes. The Japanese are scoring nearly twice as many three pointers as the U.S. this tournament (13-7), but in last week’s meeting, the Americans limited them to 10-for-38, below their 38 percent average. Even with no spectators, this has been a dream tournament for Japan, the climax of years of growth from coach Tom Hovasse and his staff.
Saturday night, we will be in for a historic feat with a win on each side. Either Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will earn their fifth-straight gold medals or Japan will pull off an upset that will be remembered for generations.