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Team USA wraps up preliminary round vs. France

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2020 Tokyo Olympics: Nigeria v USA Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Two down, many more to go. The United States Women’s Basketball team got another challenge, and they passed it by beating a fun Japan team on Friday morning. This is the last preliminary round before they move into the medal rounds.

The opponent today will be France. They helped their situation out by beating Nigeria on Friday by 25 points.

Where to follow the game

USA Network on TV. Grab a snack as we’re getting started after 12:40 AM eastern time.

Injuries

Skylar Diggins-Smith didn’t play due to an injury she suffered in practice. No word on if she’ll be available today.

The game

Japan had the Americans playing at a supercharged pace. It made for a super fun viewing experience and also something for Dawn Staley's club to work on. They had some trouble with Japan's full court pressure and they turned it over 17 times. It was less than the 25 they had against Nigeria in their opener. They still have room to get better and the more chances they have, the more they’ll be in tune with one another.

MVP doing MVP things. A'ja Wilson has been the best player for the USA so far as she has steadied their attack as she's averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds on 60 percent shooting from the field this far. Wilson's interior scoring, rebounding, ability to switch on to guards on the perimeter, rim protection, and damn near everything else you can think of has been essential. The Olympics have been her coming out party and we’ll see if Dawn Staley keeps her as the focal point of the USA’s attack.

We’ll be seeing someone who might be familiar to New York Liberty fans. Marine Johannes was with the team in 2019 and shot 37.9 percent from three point range. Japan made their living from three point range against the USA (and France for that matter) so the French will need to get their three point shot in full swing today. They shot 42.3 percent from three point range against Nigeria and will have to replicate that today if they want to move into the knockout rounds.

If it weren’t for James Wade and the Chicago Sky being haters, we’d be seeing Gabby Williams this season. However, they gave her a year long suspension due to her wanting to compete for the French national team. We’ll see her back in the W next season with the Los Angeles Sparks. In the meantime, she’ll be here and is a pretty good rebounding guard, which is essential as the USA has a distinct size advantage.

For all of the scoring talent, the defense might be the best part of the USA's attack. For all of the success Japan had and the tough layups they made, they did shoot 34.6 percent from the field. A lot of that was thanks to their 38 threes (10/38) and the fast pace, but the US was able to withstand a game opponent that presented some challenges. As they prepare to move into the medal round, they have to fine tune a few more things so they can bring home the gold.

Player to watch: Sue Bird

With Diggins-Smith banged up, Bird will continue running the show for Dawn Staley's club. On one hand, it's worked out well so far as Bird has handed out 19 assists to only four turnovers in 55 minutes of play. However, her shot hasn't traveled to Tokyo with her and it looks like it's bumming her out a bit. She made her final shot attempt and first of the Olympics against Japan, and it looked like a huge burden was lifted off her shoulders. She spoke about her struggles after the game and said:

"Every basketball player has been through something like this. It feels good to finally see one go in. I try to not overthink it. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game. I’m sure I’ll make more. You have to have a short memory. It’s so much easier said than done. ... It’s unfortunate it’s happening right now. I’ll just keep throwing them up there.”

Shooters shoot and you can't get discouraged by an ill timed slump. Guards have been able to put a lot of pressure on the American backcourt and getting to the rim, so Bird and friends will need to keep the opponents in front of them and make things a little harder.

From the Vault

Even though she’s in a slump, we’ve seen what Bird can do when everything’s on the line

More reading: Swish Appeal