Team USA’s quest for a seventh-consecutive gold medal continues with an intriguing quarterfinal contest against the Australian Opals. The Americans and Aussies meet Wednesday at 12:40 a.m. ET (USA Network).
With a 3-0 record in Olympic play, Team USA won Group A, while Australia, with a record of 1-2, finished a disappointing third in Group C and qualified based on point differential. Of course, the Opals toppled Team USA in their mid-July exhibition game in Las Vegas, when the combination of poor outside shooting and a plethora of turnovers by the Americans helped the Aussies overcome a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat the No. 1 ranked team in the world, 70-67.
Since then, the play of the Americans has improved. But, despite its undefeated record, Team USA has yet to sustain its expected dominance. Opponents’ defensive pressure, its own defensive breakdowns and offensive miscommunications have, uncharacteristically, troubled Team USA in Olympic play. Its size advantage, however, has served as the ultimate trump card.
Case in point, first-time Olympian A’ja Wilson has led the U.S. in scoring in all three games, averaging 20.3 points for the tournament. Fellow bigs Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner are second and third in scoring for Team USA, averaging 13.7 and 13 points per game, respectively. Stewart and Wilson also have done good work on the glass, with Stewart averaging 10.3 rebounds and Wilson grabbing 10 boards per game.
Yet, even without Liz Cambage, the Australians have the size needed to hang with the Americans’ elite bigs. Ezi Magbegor, who dropped 17 points on the U.S. in the Aussie’s exhibition victory, and Cayla George each stand 6-foot-4, with both also having the ability to stretch out and shoot from distance. Marianna Tolo, who was named a Game 3 Top Performer for her 26-point and 17-rebound double-double in Australia’s win over Puerto Rico, is 6-foot-5. Magbegor, George and Tolo are the Opals’ three leading scorers at 15, 13.7 and 13 points per game, respectively.
The pressure thus will be on the American and Australian backcourts to outperform their counterparts.
Japan, Belgium to face off in feel-good battle
The two most wholesome stories of the Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament will meet in the quarterfinals, with the host nation’s Akatsuki Five taking on the Belgian Cats on Wednesday at 4:20 a.m. ET (USA Network). After only losing to Team USA in pool play, Japan finished second in Group B to advance to the quarters. Belgium finished second in Group C, having also gone 2-1.
By advancing to the quarterfinals in its first-ever Olympic Games, Belgium already has had a successful Olympics. However, in 2018, Belgium qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever and finished fourth. So, it is unlikely that the Cats are satisfied.
Emma Meesseman is the driving force for Belgium, averaging an outstanding 27.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in her debut Olympics.
Can the endearing, undersized Japanese, hoping to win their first-ever Olympic medal and do it on their home soil, find a way to slow down the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP?
Expect Maki Takada to be tasked with this tough challenge. Although standing only 6-foot-1, Takada is the Japanese’s defensive anchor, admirably battling with the likes of France’s Sandrine Gruda and Team USA’s Brittney Griner during pool play.
Another electric performance from behind the arc can also help Japan best Belgium. Japan is shooting a tournament-best 38.5 percent from deep.
Can Spain continue an excellent Olympics with win over France?
Spain might have been the most impressive team in Olympic pool play, going an undefeated 3-0 to win Group A. To again finish on the podium, the 2016 silver medalists first have to get past France, which finished third in Group B with a 1-2 record and advanced on point differential. The squads meet on Wednesday at 8 a.m. ET (USA Network).
Astou Ndour has been fantastic for Spain, averaging a double-double of 22.7 points and 10.0 rebounds. She will be battling Sadrine Gruda, who has led Les Bleues with 14.7 points and eight rebounds per game. In its search for a second Olympic medal, France also has received box-score-stuffing play from Gabby Williams, who is averaging 10.7 points, six rebounds, 4.3 steals and four assists.
China, Serbia kick off quarterfinals
The quarterfinals of the Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament begin when China and Serbia take the court on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET (NBCOlympics.com).
The winners of Group C with a 3-0 record, China, with eyes on their first Olympic medal since 1992, enters the quarters with positive momentum. As has been true of the majority of the teams that advanced to the quarters, the play of bigs has been the key to China’s success. The play of its biggest big in 6-foot-7 Yueru Li, who has led the Chinese with 15.7 points and nine rebounds, has been particularly key. Li has been nearly automatic on the offensive end, converting 78.3 percent of her field goal attempts.
Serbia, which finished second in Group A with a 2-1 record, arrives in the quarterfinals with less optimism as it turned in a subpar performance when it barely survived against South Korea in its final game of pool play. However, its run to the 2021 EuroBasket championship suggests Serbia possess the resiliency needed to finish on the podium for the second-straight Olympic Games. To get there, the Serbs may need more from EuroBasket MVP Sonja Vasic, who is averaging 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in the Olympics after averaging 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in EuroBasket.