The dream of a first-ever Olympic medal in women’s basketball remains alive for the host nation. In a display of elite offensive execution on Sunday at Saitama Super Arena, Japan convincingly defeated Nigeria, 102-83, to finish second in Group B and advance to the quarterfinals.
Japan swished 19 threes, shooting a sparkling 48.7 percent from behind the arc. Saki Hayashi drained seven of the Japanese triples on her way to a game-high 23 points. Powered by Hayashi, Japan made seven of their first nine threes before finishing the first half with a 64 percent performance from deep. At the break, Japan led 51-38.
A strong third quarter, during which Japan outscored Nigeria 33-19, all but sealed the runaway victory for the Akatsuki Five.
All members of the squad scored except point guard Rui Machida. Machida, however, was the integral engine of the Japanese offense, tying the Olympic record with 15 assists. Her name will be inscribed in the record book alongside that of Team USA legend Teresa Edwards, who tossed 15 dimes during the 1996 Olympics.
Machida deflected any credit for her achievement, saying after the game, “I wasn’t even aware of the number of assists I had when I was playing. I was not thinking about it and the other players around me were just running so well and scoring all those shots, so they were the ones that contributed (to the record).”
In addition to Hayashi, four other Japanese scored in double figures, including Yuki Miyazawa with 19 points and Maki Takada with 15 points.
With Nigeria exiting the Olympics with an 0-3 record, African nations remain winless in Olympic play. It is hard to not to think about what could have been for the D’Tigeress had FIBA approved the petitions of Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams. Against Japan, former Temple Owl Victoria Macaulay led Nigeria with 18 points. Former Duke Blue Devil Oderah Chidom added 12 points and seven rebounds, while Savannah State product Ezinne Kalu had 11 points and six assists.
Serbia survives South Korea, advances to quarterfinals
Serbia also advances to the quarterfinals, having finished second in Group A. However, their 65-61 victory over South Korea did not inspire the good vibes of Japan’s win.
Serbia led 32-24 at halftime before stretching its lead to double digits early in the third quarter. The tide then turned, as the 2021 EuroBasket champions lost their rhythm on both ends of the floor. South Korea would outscore Serbia in both the third and fourth quarters. Yet, the Serbs managed to pull out the victory, with Jelena Brooks scoring the final five points to allow her team to escape.
Serbian head coach Marina Maljkovic lambasted her team’s effort after the game, declaring:
The problems are in our heads. I look at sportspeople around the Olympics and I see blood coming from their hands from all different disciplines. You see it even in men’s basketball and you see people all around Tokyo who overcome all obstacles and individual limits...There is no reason we should not also be like this. There are no excuses for my players. You are at the Olympic Games and have to understand this and what is required. The only good thing is the win at the end.
Brooks finished the game with 11 points. Aleksandra Crvendakic led Serbia with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. American-born former Texas Longhorn Yvonne Anderson had 12 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Jihyun Park had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists for South Korea, while Danbi Kim scored 15 points and grabbed six boards. Las Vegas Ace Ji Su Park totaled a game-high 11 rebounds, along with eight points, five assists and two blocks.