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A’ja Wilson, Team USA pull away in the second half to beat Japan


Team USA’s women’s basketball team has done it again in Tokyo.

The Americans defeated Japan 86-69 in group play on Friday for their 51st straight win at the Olympics.

“Japan is a tough team to play against,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said after the game. “After the first quarter, I thought we did a great job disrupting them and not allowing them to take and make as many 3-point shots uncontested. We just forced them to put the ball on the floor and then our bigs got involved.”

Staley continued: “I was happy that we locked down and got that done. I’m happy for our team because we are slowly coming together and playing the style of play we need to play to not only get better, but just compete and to get out of pool play because we’ve got a tough pool.”

Japan, in its fifth Olympic appearance, came on strong in the first quarter. They went 6-for-10 on 3-point attempts and had the U.S. on their heels defensively.

But the Americans hit their stride heading into halftime and pulled away in the second half.

A’ja Wilson led the way for the U.S. with 20 points and 10 rebounds, following up on her dominant performance in their Olympic opening win over Nigeria.

Breanna Stewart had 15 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Brittney Griner also stepped up with 15 points, while Jewell Loyd had 12 and Diana Taurasi finished with 11.

At the break, the Americans led 49-40.

Japan quickly made up the deficit in the third quarter, but they weren’t able to get any closer as Wilson, Stewart and Griner helped Team USA break away. The American trio combined for 50 points and 28 rebounds.

Although it took until the second half to build a comfortable lead, the U.S. players were confident in their progress.

“Just communication,” Loyd said of the team’s biggest improvement. “One, we’re getting used to the ball — which is different from the WNBA — and then two, just working on making sure we’re just calling for each other [on defense] and understanding personnel a little bit better and kind of taking a breath. I think we played a little fast in other games, so just trying to get a rhythm for us and take it slow and play our speed.”

Team USA next faces France on Monday.