U.S. women fend off hot start from Japan, take control of pool play in basketball

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After stunning France to open Olympic play on Monday, Japan exploded with a 30-point first quarter against Team USA on Friday.

But the American women put the clamps on before halftime and fended off a series of Japanese runs in the second half for an 86-69 win to improve to 2-0 and take control of pool play in Group B. Team USA's front line led the way, overpowering a smaller Japanese front that found few answers for the American bigs.

The win was USA's 51st straight in Olympic play as it seeks its seventh straight Olympic gold medal. Japan falls to 1-1 with the loss, but comes away with some confidence after toppling fifth-ranked France and staying competitive for much of the way against the gold-medal favorites on Friday. 

Japan's Yuki Miyazawa (L) fights for the ball with USA's Brittney Griner in the women's preliminary round group B basketball match between Japan and USA during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Japan had few answers for Brittney Griner's height advantage. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan couldn't contend with U.S. bigs

Team USA regularly fed the ball to center Brittney Griner (6-9) and forwards A'ja Wilson (6-4) and Breanna Stewart (6-4), who overwhelmed a Japanese front line with no player taller than 6-1. Griner tallied 15 points and five rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting, and Stewart posted a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds to go with a team-high six assists.

Wilson, meanwhile led the scoring effort with 20 points to go with 10 rebounds. They all shot better than 50% from the field as the team connected on 54.4% of its field goals and 9-of-21 (42.9%) 3-point attempts.

Red-hot Japanese shooting cools off late

After connecting on 11-of-27 (40.7%) 3-pointers in its upset of France, Japan stuck with what worked early against Team USA, hitting 6-of-10 from behind the arc en route to a 30-28 first quarter led. But the hot shooting fell back to earth as Americans held Japan to a combined 23 points over the second and third quarters before Japan finished shooting 10-of-38 (26.3%) from long distance.

Japan put together a 9-1 run midway through the third quarter to cut Team USA's lead to 56-51. But the Americans stretched their lead back to 63-52 late in the third and never allowed Japan back within double-digits. Power forward Maki Takada led the Japanese effort with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

USA next faces a showdown with France on Monday, while Japan takes on Nigeria, which Team USA beat to start pool play.

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