Despite suffering its first loss during its final game in pool play, the U.S. 3x3 women’s basketball team remains one of the gold medal favorites in the sport’s Olympic debut.
The U.S. fell to host Japan, 20-18, Tuesday at Aomi Urban Sports Park, but the Americans still earned a bye into Wednesday’s semifinal game against France with their 6-1 record, good for first place.
Stephanie Mawuli blocked a pair of shots by Kelsey Plum of the U.S. in the final 20 seconds to secure Japan’s win. Mio Shinozaki scored a two-pointer with 1:03 remaining for a lead Japan never relinquished.
Stefanie Dolson led the Americans with seven points, while Allisha Gray had five and Jackie Young added four. Plum was held to two points and did not connect on four two-point field goal attempts. Japan’s Mai Yamamoto led all scorers with eight.
“To be honest, this is tough,” Plum said. “We clinched first, and it's hard to get up for that game. They played really well. They hit big shots.”
Gray quickly put the loss behind her.
“The game is done,” Gray said. “It doesn't hurt us, and we're glad something like this happened earlier instead of in semifinals, when you don't get another chance. So, it was good to get that loss out of the way, and we'll be prepared for the semifinals.”
The Japan loss wasn’t the only test the U.S. has faced during the Olympic tournament, however. The previous day, the Americans had edged China, 21-19, and outlasted Italy, 17-13.
Plum gave China plenty of credit for its approach against the Americans.
“They played really super physical,” Plum said. “For us, it is tough. This is a hard tournament, and you do not have an easy game.
“There is no rest. I thought we battled through things, and there were no mistakes. And they hit some big shots, so credit to them for putting up a good fight.”
After the game against Italy, Young saw room for improvement.
“Against Italy, we were not executing well, especially on defense,” Young said. "We are just taking it one game at a time. It is just playing our game and not letting anything rattle us."
The Russian Olympic Committee mounted its own challenge Sunday against the Americans before falling, 20-16, after a Gray two-pointer ignited a scoring run.
"They went on a run at the beginning of the game, and we did not quit or hang our heads,” Dolson said. “We kept pushing. We knew our run was going to come, and it did.”
The U.S. team won’t stop pushing now that medal possibilities are at hand.
“The hardest part is playing with the pace and playing so physical,” Plum said. “You are getting held and grabbed and pushed every single play.
“It’s once in a lifetime. There will never be another first.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.