RIO DE JANEIRO — Tested for the first time at the Rio Games, Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball team responded with another convincing win.
Taurasi and Maya Moore each scored 19 points to help the U.S. pull away from Japan in a 110-64 victory on Tuesday night and advance to the semifinals.
Coming into the quarterfinals, every U.S. game was virtually over at the half. Not this one.
Japan, sticking to its up-tempo style of basketball, shooting 3-pointers and pushing the pace, trailed just 56-46 at halftime. But the Americans, who won their five group games by an average of 40.8 points, had just too much offensive firepower and eclipsed the 100-point mark for the fifth time in six games, outscoring Japan 54-18 in the second half.
The Americans, who will play the winner of France-Canada in the semifinals Thursday, have played nearly flawless basketball in Rio and their performances apparently have made an impression on Japan.
The Japanese players posed for a team picture with the U.S. after the blowout — the second straight opponent to get a postgame memento with the Americans. China took a photo after its game against the Americans in pool play. It’s reminiscent of how opponents reacted to the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
But the U.S. had to work a little harder against Japan and had to get it done without Sue Bird. The point guard sat out the entire second half after she hurt her knee midway through the second quarter.
In the first 20 minutes against Japan, the Americans were challenged as the Asian nation wasn’t afraid to try to run with them. The Japanese quickly got the ball up and down the court and hit open jumpers, taking it right at the No. 1-ranked team in the world.
Just as the Americans seemed to be pulling away in the second quarter, opening up a double-digit lead, Japan responded with a 10-2 run.
And the Japanese looked impressive doing it.
Ramu Tokashiki, who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, shook free from her defender for an easy backdoor layup that got Japan within 48-46 and capped the burst. It brought a loud contingent of Japanese fans to their feet.
That’s as close as Japan would get. The U.S. (6-0) scored the final eight points of the half, with the last four coming from Seimone Augustus, which brought cheers from Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and several other members of the U.S. men’s basketball team in attendance.
Japan scored the first four points of the third quarter, but then Moore started a 10-0 run with five straight points. Brittney Griner’s layup capped the spurt and the U.S. never looked back.
The Americans continued their torrid scoring pace and are still above the 102.4 mark set by the 1996 team that started the run of five gold medals and 47 consecutive Olympic wins.
Tokashiki scored 14 points to lead Japan (3-3), which was playing its first Olympics since 2004. The three victories equaled the most ever for the team in the Games, which it will host in 2020.
While this game provided the first real test for the Americans, their road to a sixth consecutive gold medal got a little bit easier when Australia lost to Serbia 73-71 early Tuesday. The Aussies had been the only team to hold a halftime lead over the U.S. at the Olympics in the past 16 years when they led by four in the semifinal game in the 2012 London Games. The U.S. went on to win that game by 13.
This was the first meeting in the Olympics for the U.S. and Japan since the 1996 Olympic quarterfinals, which the Americans won by 15 points. The Asian nation does have one of the three victories over the U.S. in Olympic play, topping the Americans 84-71 in 1976. That was the first year that women’s basketball was played in the Olympics.