By Rocky Swift SAITAMA (Reuters) – The United States on Monday clinched a top seed in the quarter-finals of Olympic women’s basketball, beating a game French team who squeaked through to the next round. Packed with WNBA talent, Team USA completed a 3-0 sweep of Group B in the preliminary stage with the 93-82 victory […]
Olympics-Basketball-U.S. women sweep, France and Japan advance to quarter-finals
By Rocky Swift
SAITAMA (Reuters) – The United States on Monday clinched a top seed in the quarter-finals of Olympic women’s basketball, beating a game French team who squeaked through to the next round.
Packed with WNBA talent, Team USA completed a 3-0 sweep of Group B in the preliminary stage with the 93-82 victory at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo. France, now 1-2, will still move on to the knockout stage on Wednesday based on points 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 quarter-finals,” said Breanna Stewart, who had 17 points and plays for the NBA’s Seattle Storm. “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 the 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 to advance, France inbounded the ball in the final seconds and held it till 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 also locked a seeding in the next stage with a 102-83 win over the Nigerian women’s team, who exited winless in the Group B prelims.
Saki Hayashi led a devastating assault of three-pointers, with the team converting on 19 of 39 attempts from downtown. Abetting the air raid 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 match, and Belgium suffered from poor accuracy 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, Houston Rockets legend Yao Ming came onto the court to congratulate the team.
Australia and Puerto Rico, both winless, meet in the final prelim game in the evening.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Karishma Singh)