Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Team USA took on France in a heated match to qualify for the Final round of Olympic play. France served as a strong opponent, but USA’s tough defense and tremendous offensive third quarter allowed the team to break away with a lead, winning their 48th straight game, 86-67.
The final score did not indicate how tough of a game it actually was; not all wins are easy.
“History is not going to win you a gold medal,” said Diana Taurasi of USA’s incredible Olympic track record. “It’s not going to be easy.”
And this game was anything but easy for Team USA.
Team USA struggled to find its footing right out of the gate. Team USA started off shooting only 1 for 5 and allowed France to take a minimal lead for the first five minutes of the game.
Sue Bird sat on the bench with a sprained knee, and Team USA felt her absence.
In fact, the USA shot 39 percent in the slow start of the first quarter.
“You’re not going to be able to take someone like that out of the lineup and have it just continue to flow smoothly like it did the first six games,” said USA head coach Geno Auriemma. “So we struggled a little bit…there was a different kind of rhythm.”
With Bird out of the game resting her knee in hopes of playing in the final game of the Olympics, Seimone Augustus stepped up in her starting position bringing her smooth jump shot to the game early.
Although Team USA’s offense initially lacked, its defense kept the team competitive. Constant movement from Team USA forced France to take poorly set shots.
France somewhat struggled to keep up with the pace as the US took advantage of their size inside and used defensive rebounds to initiate their transition. The USA also took advantage of forcing fouls and capitalizing on points from the free-throw line, but the French were able to take defensive action.
“I said it before the game…this was going to be a hard test against a tough, world-class team,” Taurasi said of the French team. “They’re one of the top teams every year, and we know that.”
The first quarter ended with Team USA ahead by only four points, 19-15. Six of those points came from free throws. What fans typically saw with a fluid offense, was a little shook up as France came out ready to defend the strong powerhouse.
Angel McCoughtry showed up in the second quarter for Team USA, aggressively attacking rebounds to reverse the stagnant offense of the first quarter.
Regardless of the eight offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points from Team USA in the first half, the team went into intermission with a razor-thin lead as a result of shooting only 44 percent. France trailed by four, 40-36.
“I was panicking at halftime going, ‘Oh my God!’,” said McCoughtry. “But the veterans stayed very composed, [I was] just watching them.”
Team USA came back from halftime as explosive dynamite.
“[We] showed a lot of character in the third quarter, against a very good team,” said Taurasi.
Taurasi initiated the team’s momentum with two three-point shots in the third quarter, making her the player with the most three-pointers scored in a single Olympic Games.
Sylvia Fowles quickly followed suit, scoring five points one right after the other.
Team USA’s offensive boom took nothing away from their defensive strength.
“Our defense was terrific,” said Coach Auriemma. “It fueled a lot of our offense.”
Team USA was able to limit France to only five scoring plays, outscoring them 25-8, to finish the third quarter with a comfortable lead, 65-44. All tournament they have showed how great their defense can be and tonight there was no doubt these team can defend.
The French put up a vigorous and passionate fight in the final quarter. France controlled the quick tempo of the game, but Team USA kept its momentum going with yet another three-pointer from Taurasi and seven points from Maya Moore.
Taurasi closed out the game with 18 points and four assists, trailed closely by Moore with 15 points and Fowles with nine rebounds and 12 points off the bench.
While fans missed seeing the veteran Bird on the court, her teammates felt her absence as well.
“It’s really hard to play without Sue,” said Tina Charles. “But, I think we responded really well.”
France proved to be tough competition to the Team USA powerhouse. But, the strong sense of teamwork through assists, rebounds and motivation made the women unstoppable throughout the game.
“You find different inspirations from different people,” said Taurasi. “That shows a lot of respect that we have for each other.”
Team USA closed out the game with a 19-point lead over France, finishing 86-67 for its 48th straight Olympic win.
The USA will compete for the Olympic gold medal against Spain on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST.