Basketball

U.S. cruises past Serbia, Japan routs France to reach women's basketball gold-medal game

Brittney Griner had 15 points and 12 rebounds to help the U.S. beat Serbia 79-59 on Friday to advance to the gold-medal game of the Olympics. The U.S. will play Japan, which beat France in the second semifinal.

Americans 1 win away from 7th consecutive Olympic title

American Breanna Stewart goes to the basket during the U.S.'s victory over Serbia in the Olympic semifinals on Friday in Tokyo. (Eric Gay/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner had 15 points and 12 rebounds to help the U.S. beat Serbia 79-59 on Friday to advance to the gold-medal game of the Olympics.

The Americans are now one win away from a seventh consecutive gold medal which would match the U.S. men's team that won seven Olympic titles in a row from 1936-68.

"This is exactly where we want to be," said Breanna Stewart, who also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. "Everything is on the line. We're going to do what we can to make sure we come home with a gold."

It would also give Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi five gold medals — the most ever by a basketball player in the Olympics. The Americans will face Japan on Sunday.

"I think everybody here wants to win gold for them, for us, for everybody that's started this streak that got us here," Griner said. "You know there's a lot of different reasons why we want to win this gold medal. So I think you're going to see some really good basketball in the gold-medal game."

The U.S. got a scare when Taurasi, grimacing and appearing to rub her left hip after collision, left the game midway through the third quarter. U.S. trainer Ed Ryan was talking with Taurasi when she went to the bench and she didn't return. Taurasi missed the three exhibition in Las Vegas with a hip pointer but appeared to moving fine during timeouts.

The U.S., which beat both France and Japan in pool play, has won 54 consecutive Olympic games now dating back to the semifinals of the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The Americans got off to another strong start for the second straight game. Trailing 4-3, they went on a 20-4 run to take control with a berth in the gold medal game on the line. Griner had four points on one possession. She hit two free throws after a foul was upgraded to an unsportsmanlike one and then scored on a nifty pass from Breanna Stewart and the Americans led 25-12 after one.

Neither team could really get much going for the first few minutes of the second quarter as there were more missed shots and turnovers than points. Serbia cut the deficit to nine points behind Yvonne Anderson, who played at Texas and became a Serbian naturalized citizen last year to play in the Olympics. She finished with a team-high 15 points.

The U.S. scored the next nine points, a run started by A'ja Wilson's three-point play and led 41-23 at the half. The lead ballooned to 23 points in the third quarter before the Serbia reserves started pressing and cut the deficit to 14 late in the period. The Americans scored the final five points to put the game away.

Serbia rested its starters for most of the second half with the bronze medal game roughly 24 hours away. The country won the bronze in the 2016 Rio Games.

"When you have one last chance to get a medal, it's definitely who will want it more, who will be more hungry," Serbia coach Marina Maljkovic said.

Serbia, which didn't start warming up for the game until 25 minutes before tip, shot just 30 per cent from the field — including missing 15 of its 19 3-point attempts.

Host nation guaranteed a medal

Later Friday night, Himawari Akaho scored 17 points and Japan beat France 87-71 to advance to the women's basketball gold-medal game of the Olympics for the first time in the country's history.

Japan will play the U.S. on Sunday in the title game just as coach Tom Hovasse predicted when he was hired in 2017. France, the 2012 silver medallist, will play Serbia for bronze on Saturday.

Japan's Nako Motohashi (15) drives around France's Alix Duchet (39) during their women's semifinal basketball game at the Tokyo Games in Saitama, Japan, on Friday. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

This victory continues an amazing run for the host nation, which came into the Tokyo Games ranked 10th in the world. Even with no fans allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, volunteers and other supporters found their way into the stands at the Saitama Super Arena to witness this historic moment.

The fans stood and started applauding in the final seconds, though the players' celebration was more muted than after their victory in the quarter-finals. Players hugged before huddling on the logo at mid-court, where they danced before turning and bowing and applauding their supporters. They then posed for photographers at their end of the court.

Just reaching the semifinals was a first for Japan in the country's fifth Olympics. Hovasse, the first foreign-born coach and a native of Durango, Co., was hired as head coach in 2017 after being an assistant with the team that finished eighth at the 2016 Rio Games.

This semifinal was a rematch of the Olympic opener for both teams that Japan won 74-70.

This one was not that close as Japan took control in the second quarter once the three-pointers started falling. Japan finished 11-of-22 from three-point range. When France tried to defend the long shots, the Japanese players continued to make cuts to the basket and running past French defenders.

Japan improved to 6-1 all-time against France, including 3-0 in the Olympics. Japan's only loss to France came at the 1994 world championships in the semifinals.

Yuki Miyazawa scored 14 for Japan, which had 10 players score. Rui Machida came in leading the tournament averaging 12.8 assists per game, and she set the Olympic record with 18.

Sandrine Gruda led France with 18 points. Marine Fauthoux scored 13.

The teams took turns driving to the basket early in the game for layups, and France led 22-14 after the first quarter. Japan, which missed five of six three-pointers to start the game, made five of six from beyond the arc in the second — outscoring France 27-12 for a 41-34 halftime lead.

Japan led 68-50 in the third and extended its lead to as much as 27 in the fourth.

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