• kyodo


If Japan's women's basketball squad is this year's Cinderella team, they are taking it right until midnight.

Japan dominated France in the semifinals on Friday, earning an 87-71 victory to set up a date with the U.S. in the gold medal game Sunday.

Rui Machida played an instrumental role in getting Japan into its first Olympic basketball gold medal game, with the diminutive point guard pulling the strings in the historic win.

Machida scored just nine points at Saitama Super Arena, but created many more with her 18 assists, probing the paint with precise passes to create opportunities for the women in white and red.

Himawari Akaho was often the beneficiary of Machida's creativity, with the swing player scoring 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Yuki Miyazawa chipped in 14 points and Evelyn Mawuli nine.

The win means Japan will earn no less than a silver medal at the Tokyo Games, and that medal remains the most likely outcome as they are set to play a peerless United States team that beat them by 17 points in the group stage.

The U.S. beat Serbia 79-59 earlier on Friday, continuing their domination of the tournament. They have won their five games by an average of 16.2 points, and their two knockout games by an average of 22.

Sandrine Gruda fought a lonely battle for France, her 18 points the only thing that kept the score respectable as the European team folded. They will take on Serbia for the bronze.

Japan fell behind by as many as eight points in the first quarter but put together a stellar second in which they combined swarming, trapping defense with some efficient drive and kick offense to build a 10 point lead. France responded, but could only cut it to 41-34 at the half.

The final two quarters were all one-way traffic, Japan running up the score with a 27-16 third to put the game out of reach and carve out a place in Japanese basketball folklore.

Before these Games, Japan's previous best Olympic finish was a fifth recorded in 1976 in Montreal. In Rio de Janeiro in 2016 the team lost in the quarterfinals.

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