A beautiful basketball blueprint hits the Tokyo menu
TOKYO (Japan) - While all eyes are inevitably turning to the Quarter-Finals match-ups right now, some potentially pivotal moves for the women's hoops scene occurred during the final day of the Group Phase.
Yes, the headlines were that Japan, France and Australia made the Quarter-Finals by snapping up the last three available tickets. It also meant despair for Canada who had to wait almost 36 hours to find out that they're now headed home. Yet just maybe, the sub-plot of the day was the future evolution of the women's game itself.
If women's basketball wants to evolve and grow in popularity, then maybe plenty of what happened on this key day can be a blueprint for success.
Rather than a potentially pale imitation of the men's game - a higher-tempo game that's more focused on move, pass and shoot, built within a strong team ethic, one that radiates a powerful beauty was on display today in Tokyo.
Japan stole the show as they took down Nigeria 102-83 to move to the next phase. A podium finish doesn't look out of the question after their quickness, ball movement and three-point shooting left the African team chasing shadows and booking a flight home. Japan dropped 19 triples and Rui Machida equalled the Olympic game-high record for assists with 15 of them.
"We needed a game like this," said Japan head coach, Tom Hovasse.
"Once you start getting your threes, things start opening up and you can start attacking the hoop. We caught a good rhythm and this is the kind of basketball we like to play. Moving forward this will help us with confidence in what we are doing."
Next up, France rejected their usual conservative style and slower tempo against the Group winners and unbeaten USA. They may have lost 93-82 but possibly won new fans with the way they turned up the pace. It also may have many questioning why they don't stick with that strategy moving forward for the future - and also what might have been at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket had they played more quickly.
France had six players in double-digits but were undone by another special show from A'Ja Wilson who contributed 22 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, while Breanna Stewart also continued to impress with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Belgium and China had already sealed their respective places in the knockout phase and it was the latter who impressed with a 74-62 success to finish top of the Group and hand their opponents a first-ever taste of Olympic defeat. It was another nicely paced game to continue the theme.
The Cats bombed badly from downtown and that hurt. Even another super 24-point effort from Emma Meesseman was not enough to save them as Yueru Li shone in victory for a China side who are now 6-0 leading up to and including Tokyo if you also count last year's FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
Last but not least, Australia took to the floor in need of a 25-point win against Puerto Rico to be sure of reaching the next stage. They then needed a 24-point win as the game evolved due to points scored. It was complicated perhaps. It was complicated even more that they were well behind schedule even later in the third quarter.
But every member of the Opals were able to look to the heavens and blow out their cheeks in sheer relief as they got it done 96-69 with a massive 28 points in the last period. They also relied heavily on a phenomenal offering from center Marianna Tolo who showed out with 26 points and 17 rebounds to ensure that Australia maintained their record of having always made the Quarter-Finals when present at the Games.