Olympics-Basketball-U.S. overcomes stubborn Nigeria, Japan tops France
By Chris Gallagher
SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) - The United States got off a slow start on Tuesday to outperform stubborn Nigeria with 81-72 as they began their quest for a seventh straight gold medal in women's Olympic basketball.
The US women who dominated the tournament found themselves in uncomfortable terrain at the Saitama Super Arena when the Nigerians led 20:17 after the first quarter and put the Americans under pressure to make eight ball losses.
The US women found their feet again and took the lead in the middle of the second quarter with a Diana Taurasi three-pointer that was part of a 23-0 run that gave the US a 44:32 lead at half-time.
Refusing to leave the field, Nigeria cut the gap from as much as 22 points to eight points with just over three minutes to go before the US cemented the ship again with two quick baskets after a break.
A'ja Wilson, the WNBA's Most Valuable Player in 2020, led the US with 19 points. Brittney Griner hit 13 chips and Taurasi, who was playing in her fifth Olympics, added 10 points.
Seasoned US captain Sue Bird praised Nigeria for the defensive pressure they were exerting but took heart at how her team was able to adapt.
"They like to make the game messy, they like to make you do things that you are not used to playing in a way that you do not want to play. It will never be nice against them," she said .
Nigeria had four goalscorers in the double digits, led by Ezinne Kalu at 16. Their captain Adaora Elonu took positive points despite being behind.
"It's a mixture of disappointment and encouragement for us because we wanted some rhythm and we got that towards the end. So if we can continue that for the next game, it's good," she said.
JAPAN COMES THROUGH FRANCE
In the earlier Group B game of the day, hosts Japan fought courageously defensive and ruthless three-point shooting to a 74-70 win over France.
France struggled to get on the offensive as the hosts tried to catch their ball carriers with teams of doubles and three, while Japan took advantage of France's defensive mistakes by negating a number of clutch three-pointers in the final frame.
The French briefly took the lead after a run in the fourth quarter, followed by a back and forth in the final minutes until Moeko Nagaoka sank a three-point dagger 29 seconds before the end to bring Japan to 72:68.
Japan had three double-digit scorers including Nagaoka, Maki Takada and Saki Hayashi with a team high of 12 points, while Sandrine Gruda led France with a game high of 18 points and took nine rebounds.
Japanese Saori Miyazaki said aggressive defense is key to her team's schedule.
"When it comes to shooting we are much smaller than the French. Defense has long been a big part of Japanese basketball and I'm glad we did it today," she said.
The Japanese scored 11 threes, including five in the fourth quarter, 41% behind the arch, compared to just 21% for France.
"Every time you make a mistake in defense, this Japanese team shoot a three and they score," said French head coach Valerie Garnier.
Japan, which has never won a medal in the Olympics, will face the US next on Friday. France, which won silver in 2012, face Nigeria.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Stephen Coates and Karishma Singh)
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August 16, 1:00 a.m.
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