On three continents, in four cities and over the span of three days, the Olympic fates of 14 basketball programs were about to get decided. With 16 national teams and 10 available spots at the Olympics remaining, this weekend was going to be a treat for women’s basketball fans... except for people rooting for the four teams that were about to be eliminated. For Team USA, the reigning world champions, and Team France, the host country of the 2024 Paris Olympics, the basketball tournament was a tune-up and a chance to try out some new plays and/or players. For other countries, it was life or death.
Back in October, the 16 competing national teams were divided into four groups. Below are the four host cities and four teams that, from Feb. 8-11, took them over in the name of women’s basketball:
- Xi’An, People’s Republic of China: Puerto Rico, China, New Zealand, France
- Antwerp, Belgium: Senegal, United States, Belgium, Nigeria
- Belém, Brazil: Brazil, Germany, Serbia, Australia
- Sopron, Hungary: Spain, Hungary, Canada, Japan
With Cat Ariail covering Team USA’s experience in Antwerp and Chelsea Leite celebrating Canada making the Olympics in Sopron, here I’ll focus on what happened in China and Brazil.
Xi’An: China cruises to qualification, while Puerto Rico earns Olympic berth in a thriller
After China clinched its place in the Olympics on the first day of competition, following a decisive 94-47 win over New Zealand, and France made easy work of Puerto Rico with a 88-40 win, the last available spot from the group was decided on Saturday, in a game between the Boricuas and the Kiwis.
Settling the winner in a direct contest only added to the excitement, and the game didn’t disappoint. New Zealand opened up strong, winning the first quarter by nine points. The lead was emphasized by Stella Beck’s acrobatic layup at the buzzer, released just as she was falling to the floor. Throughout the game Beck was incredible, finishing up with 21 points, eight rebounds and five dimes. In the first three minutes of second quarter though, Puerto Rico’s Mya Hollingshed took over. The No. 8 pick of the 2022 WNBA Draft scored eight points, grabbed three boards and had one block, cutting the lead to one point. New Zealand would finish the quarter with just five points. Hollingshed would be named TCL Player of the Game.
The teams went back and forth, and with two minutes left in the game New Zealand was up 61-60 when Arella Guirantes was fouled and went to the line. She made two free throws, giving Puerto Rico the lead. The Kiwis missed their shot; Puerto Rico’s Isalys Quinones rebounded the ball and was fouled. She went to the line and made both shots, making the score 64-61 in favor of the Boricuas. Then, New Zealand went to the line and drained both. After Hollingshed missed a 3, New Zealand rebounded the ball and then regained the lead on a layup, 65-64. Guirantes then made a close fadeway jump shot, New Zealand missed their three, Puerto Rico got the rebound, and Guirantes fired a long pass to Tayra Melendez, who scored an easy layup and with 16 seconds remaining. The Boricuas were up by three points.
With the game on the line, New Zealand had to take a 3. But that’s when Hollingshed extended her hand and altered the shot. The Kiwis had to foul and Guirantes converted one of two free-throws, giving Puerto Rico a four-point lead, 69-65. Beck was able to make one last layup, making the score 69-67. But that’s when the buzzer sounded.
The other group games weren’t as exciting, but we still got to see some awesome performances. In the Friday game against New Zealand, the New York Liberty’s Han Xu had 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks, showing her team the way to Paris. Against France, it was Washington Mystics guard Li Meng scoring 21 points. That didn’t amount to much, as France dismantled China, 82-50, behind Gabby Williams’ 17 points and seven rebounds. The French were untouchable, winning all three of their tournament games by an average of 45 points. In the final game of the group, between Puerto Rico and China, the hosts were focused and determined, winning 105-69. Li Meng was the best scorer of the tournament, with 19.3 points per game.
Belém: Australia, Germany and Serbia punch Olympic tickets
The Opals are one of the favorites to medal in Paris. So, it wasn’t that big of a surprise that they were the first to clinch a spot. The Aussies won against the Germans and the host Brazilians, allowing them to enter their final game against Serbia with a comfort that their competitors lacked. While the win against Germany was a 33-point blowout, the Friday duel with Brazil was one heck of a game. Both teams played great defense, with Brazil forcing 16 turnovers and Australia inducing 17. Only four players made more than 50 percent of their shots, including two—one from Brazil, one from Australia—making their lone field-goal attempts. The best player for the Opals was Ezi Magbegor, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Her final two swats came in the last minute of the game, during two possessions that could’ve altered the result. The final score was 58-55 for the Aussies.
Saturday gave us another awesome game and Brazil, once again, was on the losing end of a tough, exciting and fun contest—this time against Serbia. The Balkan team won 72-65 behind an incredible performance by Yvonne Anderson. The naturalized point guard had 30 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists. Serbia won the first half 39-38 and it remained a one- or two-possession game from there. But Brazil, yet again, lost, and their Olympic fate was to be decided on the last game of the tournament against Germany.
The previous contest of the day, between Australia and Serbia, was great in its own right. Thanks to a late push by Serbia, a steal by Yvonne Anderson, who totaled 18 points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals, and a 3 by UCLA senior Angela Dugalić, Australia led by just one point with two seconds left. Serbia had to foul. Jade Melbourne went to the line, going 1-for-2 to win the game for Australia, 75-73.
After Serbia’s loss, Brazil needed to win by at least eight points to qualify. Germany, on the other hand, just needed a win to make their first Olympics. The Germans simply wanted it more, opening the game 11-0. Brazil eventually clawed back, but didn’t come close to securing the lead necessary to progress to the Olympics. With 30 seconds left, the teams were tied at 69. What followed was a series of fouls and free throws. Germany’s Leonie Fiebich, who recently signed a training camp contract with the Liberty, missed two shots from the charity stripe and Brazil rebounded the ball. They still had five seconds and a chance to win, but Tainá Paixao missed the 3. The final score was 73-71 for Germany, denying the host Brazilians a trip to Paris.
Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Spain and the United States will compete in Paris at the 2024 Olympic Games.