Tokyo Olympics: Sue Bird wants more 'desperation' as Team USA prepare for World Cup final repeat

By Sports Desk August 02, 2021

The United States are showing no complacency despite maintaining a sensational streak en route to a last-eight clash with 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup final opponents Australia at the 2020 Olympics.

Team USA are the clear favourites for the women's basketball title after extending their winning run at the Games to 52 matches, going back to 1992.

They could tie the record of seven consecutive gold medals in a team event – set by the men's basketball team between 1936 and 1968 – by triumphing again in Tokyo.

But the United States survived a scare in their final Group B outing on Monday.

France, needing merely to lose by 14 points or fewer to advance, led with under nine minutes of the fourth quarter remaining before going down 93-82 – 11 points being Team USA's largest lead.

Sue Bird, aiming alongside Diana Taurasi to become the first athlete to win five Olympic golds in team sports, feels her team must heed their warning.

"There are a lot of areas that we need to improve on in the next 48 hours, I guess," she said, with Australia later confirmed as the United States' last-eight opponents.

"I said this the other day: these teams in the Olympics, these teams have trained and they have waited four years and they play like it is their last game.

"It is a desperation that we have not risen to just yet and we need to get there quick."

'A WORK IN PROGRESS'

Team USA had 22 points on nine-for-12 shooting and seven rebounds from A'ja Wilson and 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Breanna Stewart, who played 38 minutes, but coach Dawn Staley agreed with Bird's assessment.

"[France] played with extra effort, they hit some incredible shots and they put us back on our heels," Staley said.

"I thought we made some adjustments and I thought we did what we needed to do to win a basketball game.

"We had great contributions from a lot of different people, but we're still a work in progress and hopefully we can continue to clean up some things and some areas out on the floor."

Stewart will have fond memories of facing Australia after the 73-56 final win at the World Cup, where she was named MVP.

After beating France, she said: "This is where we start to peak."

OPALS LEAVE IT LATE

Australia had a tough task in reaching the last eight. They needed to beat Puerto Rico by 25 or more points to pip Canada to the last quarter-final spot.

The Opals entered the final two minutes 19 points ahead, but five from Leilani Mitchell in the closing stages – boosting her tally to 19 – helped secure a precious 96-69 success.

Australia have already taken on one of the top teams in China, who ended the preliminary stage as the first seeds after a 74-62 success against Belgium. They face Serbia next.

FRANCE PUT UP A FIGHT

Meanwhile, a quarter-final against Spain was the consolation in defeat for France, whose desire impressed Staley.

"The countries here at the Olympic Games, they pour into their women's teams, and now you're seeing the effects of it," the United States coach said. "And that is great women's basketball play.

"We know we're in a dogfight every time we step on the floor.

"It's great for those who just put the television on and sit down and watch players that they haven't seen before, countries that they haven't seen before, and see them play a great game."

France's Nevada-born forward Gabby Williams added: "It was 10 minutes by 10 minutes and [we were] just trying to focus on staying with them."

In the same pool, Japan – led by Saki Hayashi's 23 points and seven made threes, along with Rui Machida's record-equalling 15 assists – beat Nigeria 102-83 and will face Belgium next in the quarters.

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