The United States on Monday clinched the top seed in the quarterfinals of the women’s basketball competition at the Tokyo Olympics, defeating a French team that squeaked through to the next round, as well.
Packed with WNBA talent, Team USA completed a 3-0 sweep of Group B in the preliminary stage with the 93-82 victory over France at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo. France, now 1-2, will still move on to the knockout stage on Wednesday based on point differences with other third-place teams.
“It wasn’t a must-win, but we always want to win and to have that momentum going into the quarterfinals,” said Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, who had 17 points. “This is where we start to peak. We want to be our best and obviously, go for a gold medal.
France fought back to briefly retake a lead in the fourth quarter until buckets by A’ja Wilson and Tina Charles put the Americans solidly back in charge.
Needing to lose by fewer than 15 points to advance, France inbounded the ball in the final seconds and held it until the clock wound down, protecting their 11-point loss margin.
“They’re the best players in the world,” France’s Gabby Williams said of Team USA. “It was just important to stay with them and just to make everything difficult.”
Japan secured a high seeding in the next stage with a 102-83 win over the Nigerian women’s team, who exited the Group B prelims winless.
Saki Hayashi led a devastating assault of three-pointers for Japan, with the team converting on 19-of-39 attempts from beyond the arc. Abetting the effort was Rui Machida, who tied an Olympic women’s basketball record with 15 assists.
“She’s always been one of the most incredible passers I’ve seen,” Japan coach Thomas Wayne Hovasse said at a news conference. “I’m really happy she’s getting noticed.”
The Chinese women’s team overcame Belgium 74-62 to improve to 3-0 in Group C. Both teams will advance to the next stage. China played a physical game, and Belgium suffered from poor shooting from the field.
“Today’s win is what we wanted but didn’t dare to expect,” Li Yueru, who led China with 14 points, said through a translator.
After China’s victory, former Houston Rockets great Yao Ming came onto the court to congratulate the team.
In the last game of the preliminary stage, the Australian women’s team needed a blowout of Puerto Rico to snag the final quarter-final berth among third-place group teams. They came through with a 96-69 rout to rob Canada the final slot.
The Olympic women’s basketball quarterfinals will take place on Wednesday.