Japan only led once in the second half, but it was more than enough as Saki Hayashi hit a 3-point basket to put the team up for good with 16 seconds left in the game. Belgium had one final possession, but the Kim Mestdagh mid-range jumper fell short, and Japan secured the victory, 86-85. Japan will now advance to the semifinals where it will face France, a team it beat in the first game of group play, 72-68.
This quarterfinal matchup was as evenly matched as they come with both teams exchanging leads early. The first quarter ended with Japan leading by three. Then, the host country started getting hot in the second quarter and led 30-18 after an 8-0 run. Belgium responded with their own 12-0 run and the half ended with Belgium up 42-41.
Belgium continued its offensive onslaught in the third quarter. It was led by Emma Messeman, who ended the game with 25 points, and Kim Mestdagh’s incredible 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. Belgium led by as many as thirteen in the third, but Japan hung around thanks to its own combo of Yuki Miyazawa and Maki Takada. They combined for 40 of the teams 86 points. Belgium was still in control entering the fourth, up 68-61.
The fourth quarter was one for the ages with both teams matching each other three for three and the score being tied four different times throughout the quarter. Ultimately, Japan came out victorious by the slimmest of margins thanks to the Hayashi game-winner. The passion was evident from both sides as Japan jumped in the joy of their triumph, while virtually every Belgian player was in tears on the court.
The agonizing part for Belgium is that it beat Japan in virtually every statistical category. It had a better field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. It also had more blocks, steals, rebounds, and assists. Japan just hung around long enough and hit just a couple more threes in the fourth, to close the deficit and squeak out a win.
This Japan team has already made history. The women’s team has never made it this far in the Olympics. It now has a golden opportunity to defeat France and advance the gold medal game. We’ll see if it can do so on Friday when it plays the Gabby Williams-led team.