Rio de Janeiro — The quarterfinals have brought a new level of competition.
Watching the United States women’s basketball team on Tuesday afternoon, I could instantly tell that I was looking at a much more interesting game.
After seeing the women blow teams out by 20, 30, even 40 points, I couldn’t help but get a little bored. I mean come on, how many times can you really watch a blowout?
But Japan brought a more vibrant game to Geno Auriemma and the United States, something that was much needed. Yet, the United States still beat Japan convincingly 110-46. One wouldn’t even be able to say anything was different by looking at the box score.
However, by watching the game, it’s clear that the Olympics just got harder for Auriemma’s squad — and it won’t be getting any easier.
The two teams battled back and forth early on Tuesday, with the United States never grabbing more than a 12-point lead. Japan, though, was causing trouble. They were making shots of their own and taking advantage of several missed buckets from the United States, never falling far behind.
Japan made a big 8-0 run at the end of the second quarter, too, cutting the United States’ lead to just two points. While it looked as if the two teams were going into the locker room in a tight battle, the United States quickly compiled an 8-0 run of its own to go up 10 at the break.
Japan’s run clearly worked. It’s like it lit a fire under the United States and finally kicked them into gear. The women went on a 10-0 run early in the third quarter, and then built its lead to 19 points. They were hitting shots. They were sharing the ball.
In the second half as a whole, the United States outscored Japan 54-18. It was as if the first half was completely forgotten, and we went back to the old ways of the women’s team.
Forcing Auriemma’s team to fight through adversity in a game that could have gone either way is something the United States hasn’t experienced yet in Rio. It’s almost as if they were handed a train ticket straight to the elimination round. And as they hopped off the train, I think the United States was a little shocked.
And that’s an excellent thing. Things aren’t going to be easy for them anymore. With only four teams remaining in the tournament, nobody is going to submit to the giant that is the United States. Everybody is in it for the gold medal.
Japan proved that fact. Even though the United States won by 46 points, they finally had to earn it.
The rest of the tournament will be the same way. It’s time for the United States to truly win the gold medal.
And at the very least, the final two rounds will be much more entertaining to watch.