SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – The U.S. can do something no other women’s basketball team can at the Tokyo Games: bring former WNBA MVPs Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles off the bench.
The Americans’ depth in the post continues to be the difference for the U.S.
“We know that’s the strength of our team at the moment, and we try to keep them as much as possible,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “And fortunately for us, they’ve delivered.”
Charles and Fowles answered the call Monday when the U.S. needed them in a 93-82 win over France. Charles scored eight of her 15 points in the fourth quarter, including two 3-pointers after the U.S. trailed 72-71 early in the period.
“That was just preparation and opportunity,” Charles said of her big fourth quarter. “Just doing what we needed.”
A’ja Wilson scored 22 points and Breanna Stewart added 17 as the Americans (3-0) outscored France 46-30 in the paint - and finish pool play 3-0. Fowles made her presence felt inside, finishing with nine points, including going 5-for-5 at the free throw line. The win was the 52nd in a row for the U.S. dating back to the bronze medal game of the 1992 Olympics.
The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals unbeaten - albeit not in the dominant fashion the team is used to. The Americans haven’t lost a game in group play since women’s basketball was added to the Olympics in 1976.
“It wasn’t a must win, but we always want to win,” said Stewart, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists. “To have that momentum going into the quarterfinals, This is where we start to peak.”
Even with the loss, France (1-2) advanced to the quarterfinals because of point differential with the other third-place teams. The team had to lose by 14 points or less to advance.
“We were completely aware,” said Gabby Williams of the margin France needed to advance. “It was 10 minutes by 10 minutes and trying to focus on staying with them. I think that was the goal.”
Both teams will find out later Monday night who they will play in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
France scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take a 72-71 lead before the U.S. answered with 12 of the next 14 points to go up 83-74 with 5:45 left. Wilson had six points during the run.
Charles‘ 3-pointer made it 87-77, giving the U.S. its first double-digit lead of the game. France could get no closer than seven the rest of the way.
“We knew France had their backs against the wall,” Stewart said. “They had to play their best today and play within a certain margin to advance. We talked about it here and there. It’s super complicated. Most important thing for us was to win.”
Endene Miyem scored 15 to lead France.
BUMPS AND BRUISES
The U.S. got a scare in the first quarter when Taurasi left the game holding her right wrist. She was examined by the trainer and sat on the bench for the remainder of the quarter before returning with 4:20 left in the second period.
While Taurasi was being attended to, the French team led 22-19 after one quarter - the third consecutive game that the Americans trailed after the first 10 minutes.
STARRING FOR FRANCE
Williams was playing in her first Olympics for France and did well against some of her former UConn teammates. She had six steals and five rebounds to go along with 10 points, Williams’ mother is French that allowed her to play with the French national team.
CONNECTING FROM DEEP
Charles hit the first three 3-pointers of her Olympic career. She‘s improved her 3-point shooting during the WNBA season this year, making 37% from behind the arc.
“I’m just thankful that Dawn just allows us to be ourselves while we’re on this team,” Charles said.
The U.S. has now beaten France in each of the past three Olympics. … Diggins, who turned 31 on Monday, returned to the court after she missed the last game after was banged up in practice. Diggins had three points. … The U.S. came into the game averaging a tournament worst 21 turnovers a game. The team committed just 12 against France.
A lot of attention has been on Sue Bird and Taurasi going for a fifth Olympic gold medal. Fowles is playing in her fourth games.
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