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Semifinal Previews: Team USA takes on Serbia, Japan meets France

The semifinals of the Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament are set! The U.S., Serbia, France and Japan are all looking to earn a spot in the gold medal game. Before Team USA can win its seventh-straight gold, it must take care of Serbia on Friday at 12:40 a.m. ET. At 7 a.m. ET, host Japan will hope to continue its inspiring Olympic run with another win over France.

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Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The final four teams standing in the Women’s Olympic Basketball Tournament are the U.S., Serbia, France and Japan. All four will enter the semifinals with eyes on a spot in the gold medal game.

On Friday at 12:40 a.m. ET, Team USA and Serbia meet in the first semifinal. Then, at 7 a.m. ET, France and Japan face off.

Can Serbia challenge Team USA?

During their run to the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Team USA dispatched Serbia, securing a 110-84 win in pool play behind a 25-point performance from Diana Taurasi. Breanna Stewart had 17 points for the U.S., while Tina Charles added 15 points and eight rebounds.

More recently, Team USA notched another convincing victory over the Serbs, claiming the 88-69 win on Serbia’s home turf in the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Both squads’ rosters feature many of the same names. A’ja Wilson led the Americans with 16 points and eight rebounds. Brittney Griner posted 14 points and six boards. Skylar Diggins-Smith, who has not seen significant playing time in Tokyo, drained four 3-pointers on her way to 15 points.

Serbia was led by Jelena Brooks and Ana Dabovic, both of whom scored 13 points. For Tokyo, Serbia has added a key contributor in Yvonne Anderson, who has averaged 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in Olympic play.

However, it is hard see Serbia defying precedent and turning the tables on Team USA, especially since the Americans have begun to approach peak form. After scuttling through stretches of pool play, Team USA looked like the unquestioned No. 1 team in the world in their resounding quarterfinal win over Australia. That a young, inexperienced Breanna Stewart did damage against Serbia five years ago also does not inspire confidence in the Serbs’ chances. An improved and experienced Stewart, teamed with an A’ja Wilson who also has had success against Serbia, suggests Team USA should find themselves in the gold medal game without much stress.

Japan, France meet in rematch

Japan and France opened Olympic play against each other, with the host Japanese, the No. 10 team in the world, knocking off the fourth-ranked French, 74-70. While France will be looking to avenge the loss, Japan will be aiming to continue its quest for the country’s first women’s basketball medal.

As has been the case for much of its Olympic experience, the 3-pointer helped to power Japan’s success in its first game against France. The Japanese converted 11 of their 27 treys, good for 40.7 percent. In contrast, the French were cold from long range, hitting only four of their 19 triples (21.1 percent). Since then, the France’s deep shooting has only marginally improved, as they have shot 31.9 percent from behind the arc for the tourney.

Unless they have an outlier 3-point shooting performance, France must exploit their 2-point shooting advantage. France has shot 54.7 percent on twos compared to Japan’s 45.4 percentage. This difference is a product of France’s size and Japan’s lack thereof. France, therefore, must dominate the glass and cash in on second-chance points. In the previous matchup, France only outrebounded Japan by one, 35-34.

France also will have to overcome the camaraderie and connectedness of the host country. Japan has played with a spirit that seems to have allowed them to defy their lack of size and its related disadvantages.

With a well-executed offense and a scrappy defense, Japan has looked the part of a medal winner. A gold medal game between Japan and Team USA would seem to be the perfect way to conclude the Tokyo Olympics.