Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — Team USA is favored to win it all for women’s basketball. After an undefeated 5-0 pool play performance, the Americans were able to escape a near upset against Japan on Tuesday after a shaky first half performance rocked the Americans and only gave them a 10-point cushion at the half.
After the game, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma told ESPN’s Sportscenter host Scott Van Pelt that his team is “on a mission.” Operation: Gold.
Coach Auriemma also said his team, who is heavily favored to win its sixth consecutive gold medal has the chance to be “a great team — maybe even one of the best teams ever” in U.S. women’s basketball history.
Tuesday’s win over the Japanese brought the Americans to face off against the same team the U.S. battled for gold in the 2012 London Olympic Finals: France.
Team USA, which is averaging a 42-point deficit against opponents in Rio, was only able to captivate France by 19 points. While the energy was high for the majority of the game, the Americans lacked efficiency and let the French believe they could set the pace and momentum in the first two-quarters of the game.
The first half wasn’t pretty for the Red, White and Blue. With the French dominating the tempo of the game, the U.S. became flustered and allowed the French to push through with a 5-0 run.
France was actually able to hold onto the U.S., only trailing by four points heading into the locker rooms. Putting away its first half woes, team USA came out at the second half full speed, outscoring the French 25-8 in the third quarter. With that, the U.S. was able to separate itself, 65-44 at the end of the third.
It only took the U.S. until mid-third quarter to wake up on the defensive end of the court. During the first half, the Americans weren’t able to get back on defense and cover the players they needed to. Nonetheless, in the third, the U.S. began forcing more competition in France’s lane and under the hoop.
France struggled to produce much from the field, and looked to be successful from behind the arc. The Americans’ defense forced two shot clock violations against the French in the third period alone, leaving them frazzled and unproductive.
The U.S. defense as able to see its matchup and clamp down on its competition. For example, team USA held off France point guard Olivia Époupa to 10 points. Époupa has been a monumental contributor for the French. With her struggling to find the basket, Marine Johannes stepped in for France, scoring 13 points.
Although France was trailing in the third, it was able to prove it was not totally out, scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth. But the U.S. was able to run away with the victory, shutting the French down 86-67.
The U.S. is known for its bench production, but in today’s game, the role was flipped. France’s bench actually managed to outscore the U.S. bench, 35-29. Auriemma needs his offense to work faster and without hesitations, especially since veteran guard Sue Bird is day-by-day for the Americans with a knee injury.
Although the U.S. bench produced only a third of the team’s total points, it did bring a ball of enthusiasm and support. At one point in the third, Diana Taurasi missed a basket, which resulted in the U.S. having a 24-second violation. The camera flashed over to her teammate Elena Delle Donne yelling, “let’s go.”
Delle Donne also helped the Americans run the board. The offense did struggle to make easy shots at some points and inconsistencies continued to haunt the Red, White and Blue. Overall the U.S. was still able to produce, which is all the counts.
The Americans shot 55 percent from the field, compared to the French shooting just under 48 percent. Taurasi scored a game-high 18 points for the U.S., and went 3-3 from the field and 3-9 beyond the arc.
With a minor upset scare brewing in the first half, the U.S. was able to prove it was the dominant team. The Americans will look to complete Operation: Gold in the Olympic Finals on Saturday, Aug. 20 against Spain.
The U.S. is in route for its sixth consecutive gold medal, while Spain is looking for its first Olympic medal.