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Serbia, Japan gut out wins in opening games of Tokyo Olympics

Serbia, the 2021 EuroBasket champions, continued their recent run of strong play with a win over Canada in Group A action. In Group B, the host Japanese secured an inspiring victory against France.

Serbia v Canada Women’s Basketball - Olympics: Day 3
Serbia’s Sonja Vasic cuts through the Canadian defense for the bucket.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It seems the 2021 EuroBasket champions are intent upon claiming additional hardware this summer. Serbia, the EuroBasket champs and the eighth-ranked team in the world, defeated Canada, ranked No. 4 in world, in their Group A matchup, 72-68.

Sonja Vasic, the EuroBasket MVP, again was the leading woman for Serbia, scoring a team-high 16 points. Three other Serbian athletes also scored in double figures, with 10 points coming from Aleksandra Crvendakic, 11 coming from Ana Dabovic and 12 points coming from Yvonne Anderson, who was born in the United States and played college basketball at the University of Texas.

Superior shooting was a clear advantage for Serbia against Canada. It shot 51.4 percent from the field, including 47.1 percent from 3-point range. In contrast, Canada struggled to find the bottom of the net, especially in the first half. Over the first two quarters, the Canadians shot a frigid 28 percent from the field. However, Canada trailed by only eight points at the half, 36-28, due to strong defense.

In the third quarter, the Canadians further dialed up their defense, holding Serbia to only nine points. Canada also found a semblance of an offensive rhythm, led by seven points in the period from the Phoenix Mercury’s Kia Nurse. For the game, Nurse had 16 points, along with six rebounds, four assists and three steals. She also played a game-high 38 minutes. Despite coming off the bench, Nirra Fields led the Canadians in scoring, putting in 19 points in less than 23 minutes of action. Fields, who played collegiately at UCLA before playing one season with the Mercury in 2016, also added four boards, four steals and three assists.

In the fourth quarter, Serbia rediscovered its offensive groove, as well as some offensive flair, while Canada again went cold at crucial moments.

With the game tied at 4:25 remaining, Serbia swished a trio of 3-pointers to take a seven-point lead. Canada did not go away, cutting the margin to one point with 13.6 seconds to play after a 3-pointer from Fields, a technical free throw from Nurse and another free throw from Shaina Pellington, the speedster who plays for the University of Arizona. Yet, Dabovic secured the Serbian win, hitting the game-sealing 2-point shot with two seconds on the clock.

In addition to losing the contest, Canada also lost Shay Colley, who played college basketball at South Carolina and Michigan State, to a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Encouragingly, Natalie Achonwa did take the court for the Canadians. Having missed 10-straight games for the Minnesota Lynx due to a sprained MCL, Achonwa started and played just over 21 minutes. Although she was scoreless, she did have five assists and three steals. The other Canadian Lynx, Bridget Carleton, also struggled with her shot. Carleton hit only three of her 10 shots attempts, including missing all six of her 3-point attempts.

Along with Pellington, the Canadians have two more collegians on their squad. South Carolina’s Laeticia Amihere scored two points and grabbed three rebounds in under 18 minutes of play. UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards received only 16 seconds of court time.

Monday’s other action

Japan claimed a competitive 74-70 comeback win over France in its first game of the Olympics.

The combination of stingy defense and hot 3-point shooting helped the host nation secure the upset victory, particularly allowing them to pull away at the end of a back-and-forth fourth quarter. The No. 10 ranked team in the world, Japan finished eighth at the 2016 Olympics. France is ranked fifth in the world and finished fourth at the 2016 Games.

Japan hit 11 threes, led by three triples from Saki Hayashi. Hayashi finished with a team-high 12 points, while Moeko Nagaoka and Maki Takada also scored in double figures, with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Nagaoka sank the game’s most crucial 3-pointer, draining the deep ball with 29 seconds left to guarantee the victory. Playing a game-high 36:34, Takada anchored the Japanese defense, battling in the post with France’s Sandrine Gruda.

Gruda led the French with 18 points and nine rebounds. Gabby Williams, who will be a Los Angeles Spark when she returns to the WNBA next season after spending the first four seasons of her career with the Chicago Sky, stuffed the box score with nine points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals in her nearly 31 minutes of play. However, like the French team as a whole, Williams struggled from behind the arc, hitting one of her five attempts. Marine Johannes, who played with the New York Liberty in 2019, missed all four of her 3-point attempts. Johannes played 15 minutes, finishing with six points and four assists. Iliana Rupert, the Las Vegas Aces’ 2021 first round draft pick, did not play.

Up next

Currently tied at the top of the Group A standings, Serbia and Spain meet on Thursday at 4:20 a.m. ET. Canada takes on Korea at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, with both squads needing the win to keep their hopes of advancing alive.

In Group B action, Japan will hope to carry their momentum into a matchup with Team USA at 4:20 a.m. ET on Friday. Before that, France will look to rebound with a stronger performance against Nigeria at 12:40 a.m. ET.