Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Team USA had to do what they hadn’t done yet in the Olympics: fight.
France put up a valiant effort against USA in the semi-final game, but a crushing third quarter punched the U.S. teams’ ticket to the gold medal match. In its closest game yet, USA downed France 86-67.
The Team USA faced its toughest match-up so far against France. Rightly so, it was the semi-final after all. Like the other teams Team USA had already faced, France came out with brave faces and a little bit of hope they could pull off an upset against the basketball giants.
But unlike the others, France’s fearlessness didn’t drain away after the opening quarter.
They had done their homework and managed to match the USA’s blows. France even jumped out to a four-point lead at the start of the game, thanks to the fiery center, Isabelle Yacoubou.
Team USA was without starting point, Sue Bird, who left the quarterfinal game early with a knee injury. Tamika Catchings said the first half’s energy suffered without her.
“Not having Sue out there, just being that primary ball handler makes other people have to kind of tune it a little more. But, I think from an energy standpoint, we didn’t have it in the first half,” said Catchings.
As the final seconds ran out in the half, Marielle Amant grabbed the offensive rebound and made a sneaky layup to move back within four. The USA struggled to make some easy shots early on and had zero percent shooting from long range. However, they managed to hold on to a 40-36 lead going into halftime.
In fact, the French matched the US in scoring in the second half, as both teams finished with 21 points in the quarter. The only other team to be relatively close with Team USA at half time was Japan, who was down 10 at the half just last game.
The difference in the second half was Team USA could turn up its intensity 100 percent more; but France had already given all they had. After the break, there was no mistaking how much the U.S women wanted that gold medal game.
The bench erupted for every point of USA’s 12-5 run to start the half. Diana Taurasi sprung to life as she drained two three-point baskets. But she said its what they did on the other side of the ball that eventually wore France down.
“People are always fascinated by how many points we score, but the fact that we could really hold teams down, it showed a lot of character in the third quarter, against a very good team.” Taurasi said.
The USA finally did what they have done to every other team: squashed out all signs of hope from France.
In the third quarter, Team USA outscored a deflated France 25-8. The physical dominance of the U.S. overpowered France’s brave fight. When a 6 foot 5 inch Elena Delle Donne came charging in, there was nothing France could do. And on the other end, USA’s defense was suffocating which force seven French turnovers.
It was during this quarter team USA’s dominance from the rest of the Olympic Tournament really shined through again as they locked up Japan on defense and capitalized on the offensive end.
France’s brave effort made a comeback in the final quarter, outscoring the USA 23-21. But the game was lost for France, as they blown out in the third quarter, and the overwhelming presence of Team USA was too much to overcome.
The ultimate fall for France was their lack of being able to score against a team hungry to return to the gold medal game and defend their title once again in the Olympics.
Taurasi sealed the game making all three of her free throws after being fouled on her three-pointer attempt, adding to her team-high 18 points and going three-for-nine from behind the arc.
With those threes, Taurasi broke another record -- this time not only America’s but the world’s – with the most threes ever in an Olympic women’s basketball tournament with 28.
France held its own on defense with three blocked shots and 12 steals, beating the U.S. in both categories. But Team USA won the game on its rebounding. Maya Moore grabbed seven of USA’s 43 rebounds to France’s 29. Team USA took almost half of the rebounds at its own end, making way for the second chance points that France lacked.
With all expectations met, the U.S. women sailed through to the gold medal game against Spain. Although Team USA are the heavy favorites, Taurasi knows they have their work cut out for them.
“It’s going to be the same old dance. Spain. They got world-class players. Palau, Dominguez, Cruz, Alba Torrens. I’ve been overseas on the same team with her the last two years,” said Taurasi. “This is going to be a great game between great teams and great players alike.”
Team USA will go for their sixth straight gold medal on Sunday at 2:30 eastern time.