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By Rocky Swift
SAITAMA (Reuters) -Team USA rolled over Australia in Olympic women's basketball on Wednesday, while host nation Japan won a three-point shootout to earn a historic chance for a medal.
The stage is set for Friday's semi-finals, with the United States to take on Serbia, while Japan will meet France.
Like the U.S. men's performance https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/basketball-kevin-durant-leads-team-usa-over-spain-into-semis-slovenia-advance-2021-08-03 on Tuesday, the American women sailed into the next stage, with a 76-55 trouncing of Australia at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo.
The Americans were undefeated through the group stage, while Australia edged other third-place finishers to make it to the knockout bracket.
"We're happy that we played well," said U.S. team captain Sue Bird, now in her fifth Olympics. "I think all of us will go to sleep tonight feeling good in terms of the trajectory we're on. But that doesn't mean anything for the semis."
As with the men's side, the U.S. women's basketball http://www.fiba.basketball/olympics/women/2020 team is a perennial favourite at the Games, taking eight gold medals since 1976.
Serbia, the reigning EuroBasket champions, came from behind to defeat China 77-70 and set up their clash with the United States.
"All of us who played overseas, you always had a Serb on your team," Bird said about her team's next opponents. "They just know how to ball out. They know how to play basketball."
Down by nine at the start of the fourth quarter, Serbia's Ana Dabovic ignited a comeback with a three-pointer and lay-up in quick succession that tied the game.
"We never quit, and we play the hardest when we are down," said Dabovic, who scored 13 points. "We showed today we can find energy."
In a furious, back-and-forth game, Japan's Saki Hayashi sank a three-pointer to put Japan's women up 86-85 against Belgium in the final seconds. Japan hung on and earned their first ever slot in the Olympic semi-finals.
The host nation's women hit 14 shots from beyond the arc compared with 11 for the Belgian Cats https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/basketball-in-games-debut-belgian-coach-says-daughters-are-just-players-2021-08-03.
Japan head coach Thomas Wayne Hovasse threw down the gauntlet against Team USA in a post-match news conference.
"Four and a half years ago, I said my goal, my dream, is to beat America in the Tokyo Olympics in the championship game," Hovasse said. "Everybody laughed at me. I don't know, there might be some people starting to believe now."
In the last quarter-final game on Wednesday, France eked out a 67-64 win over Spain, who had rallied to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. Marine Johannes led France with 18 points, including a critical jumper as the shot clock ran out in the final minute.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Berkrot)