TOKYO — The Olympic women’s basketball tournament concludes late Sunday morning (late Saturday night in the United States) with a potentially lopsided matchup between the United States and Japan.
When the teams met earlier in this tournament, in group play, the Americans won by 17. In every facet of the game — skill, speed, size, strength, to name a few — the United States is expected to be superior.
But surprises happen. The Japanese will have home court advantage (whatever that is worth in an arena devoid of paying spectators) and will be gunning for a huge upset to add another gold medal to the country’s impressive overall haul.
The Americans have been dominant.
A win would extend a long run of dominance by the American women at the Olympics: The team has not lost a game in the tournament since 1992.
The Americans notched their 54th consecutive win on Friday after romping past Serbia, 79-59. They got the ball inside to Brittney Griner (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Breanna Stewart (12 points, 10 rebounds) for easy baskets and could look to do the same against Japan. Griner has shot 65.1 percent from the field through the team’s first five games.
The team was not happy about committing 17 turnovers but they made up for it with their staunch defense.
“It wasn’t as clean and fluid as we would like,” coach Dawn Staley said afterward. “But at this stage of the game, you’re going to have to win a lot of different ways, and we found a way to win.”
It’s Sue Bird’s last Olympics.
The final on Sunday could represent the end of the road for two longtime superstars: Sue Bird has said these Olympics will be her last, while Diana Taurasi has hinted at it.
“Last dance, baby!” Taurasi yelled as she walked back to the locker room after the team’s semifinal win.
The two are aiming for their fifth gold medals, which would set a new career record for gold medals by an Olympic basketball player.
“Sue and Dee, what they’ve done for U.S.A. Basketball is extremely special,” Stewart said last week. “The fact that they’re going for five straight golds is insane.”
Expect 3-pointers from the Japanese players.
The Japanese will pin their hopes on their ability to connect from deep range. They lead all teams in 3-point shooting, hitting at a 40.9 percent rate.
The Americans will have to keep an eye on two sharpshooters in particular: Yuki Miyazawa has drained 19 3-pointers in this tournament and Saki Hayashi has made 17. (The next highest individual total in the tournament belongs to Kim Mestdagh, who made 10 before Belgium was eliminated in a quarterfinal.) Miyazawa is shooting 45.2 percent from 3-point range, while Hayashi is shooting 50.0 percent.
Japan looked fluid on offense in a convincing, 87-71, semifinal victory over France. Rui Machida orchestrated the performance from the point guard position, handing out an eye-popping 18 assists.
The Japanese team will not have much experience to lean on: This is its first time making it to the medal round in basketball.