RIO DE JANEIRO – Asami Yoshida and Ramu Tokashiki combined for 37 points, leading Japan to a 79-71 victory over France in the final game of Pool A in the women’s basketball tournament at the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
Coach Tomohide Utsumi’s squad, which had already booked its spot in the quarterfinals, ran France ragged for four quarters, but needed to win big to finish third in the pool.
Japan, which finished the preliminary round with the same 3-2 record and number of competition points as world No. 4 France and Turkey, finished fourth based on a points calculation. The two-time defending Asian champion will now face the United States, the seven-time gold medalist which is ranked first in Pool B, in its quarterfinal game on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Japan ran world No. 2 and London Olympics bronze medalist Australia close in a 92-86 loss to reach the last eight for the first time since Atlanta 1996.
“We came into this game with the same strong motivation we got from our game against Australia, and I had talked with the players about that,” Utsumi said.
“Australia was a very important game for us, but with the problem with the points scored and lost, we were aiming to win by at least 13 points and if possible 15 points. We weren’t able to do that today.”
Japan got off to a flying start and only trailed once, at the end of the first quarter, against the London 2012 silver medalist.
Mika Kurihara, normally Japan’s key 3-point shooter, was held scoreless so it was left to Yoshida to pick up the scoring slack.
Going for 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, with a pair of 3s, seven assists and four steals, Yoshida, the team’s captain and floor general, did it all.
“We had a goal of winning by 15 or more points today but the first half was too tight,” Yoshida said. “We went into the second half unable to completely get into a rhythm.”
Yoshida was supported by Tokashiki’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort while Sanae Motokawa had 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the floor.
France was paced by Isabelle Yacoubou and Olivia Epoupa, both of whom had 14 points.
France trailed by as much six in the first, but gradually closed in and went ahead when Sarah Michel stole the ball and set Amel Bouderra up to bang a 3 at the buzzer for a 19-17 lead.
But Japan, the world’s 16th-ranked team, came right back in the second quarter, with Rui Machida firing from beyond the arc to regain the lead for good.
Japan extended its advantage to 40-32 by halftime as France struggled with turnovers.
France tied it at 40-40 in the third quarter, but Japan pulled away on the back of Kaede Kondo’s shooting and solid defense, and in the fourth had as much as a 12-point buffer, which was more than enough.