RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan suffered its first loss of the Rio 2016 women’s basketball tournament Tuesday, going down 76-62 against Turkey, which proved to be too good after getting off to a hot start that even a late Japanese charge could not overcome.
Japan was demolished by forward Lara Sanders, a U.S. native with dual citizenship who finished the game with 36 points — increasing her Rio Olympics-leading scoring average to 21.7 points per game.
Sanders was unstoppable inside, scoring in a multitude of ways in the paint to finish 14 of 18 from the field and 8 of 9 from the charity stripe, in addition to pulling down seven rebounds in 31 minutes, 56 seconds of playing time.
Japan wasn’t helped by the officiating, with Turkey given an incredible 21 free throws, to Japan’s three.
Ramu Tokashiki was again the go-to scorer for the Japanese, but on this night she was less effective, scoring 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting.
“The player I was guarding scored 36 points, so I am really disappointed about that. Giving up 24 points in the first quarter did it for us,” said Tokashiki.
“We have an even more difficult opponent up next (in Australia), but we hope our fast-paced play can get us the win.”
Mika Kurihara and Asami Yoshida did not aid Japan’s cause, shooting a combined 8 of 24, although Yoshida did have another stellar game handling the ball, finishing with seven assists to increase her tournament-leading assist average to 8.7 per game.
“We could not play our style at all, (we couldn’t) turn defense into offense with speed. It was a game in which we could not get a rhythm,” said Kurihara.
Playing at their second Olympics, the Turkish women hit the court running, establishing an early 15-point lead midway through the first quarter to get their Olympics going in the right direction.
Before Tuesday’s game against Japan, they had lost their previous two against Group A heavyweights, Australia and France. They took their frustrations out on an unbeaten Japan in the first quarter.
Things only got worse for Japan in the second, with Turkey’s lead ballooning to 25 with three minutes left in the half, but that is when Japan focused its defensive effort and got on a run of its own, cutting the lead to 15 with a 10-0 run to close the half.
Unfortunately for Japan, it could not replicate a similar run in the second half, and despite pulling to within eight points in the fourth quarter, the Japanese could not get any closer.
With two games to go, Japan has a big task ahead.
Next up is an unbeaten Australian team that has won a medal at the past five Olympics before a meeting with France in what will be a pivotal game for quarterfinal seedings.