Japan led only once in the second half, but that was more than enough as Saki Hayashi hit a 3-point basket to keep the team 16 seconds ahead. Belgium had one last possession, but the Kim Mestdagh middle-distance jersey fell short and Japan won, 86-85. Japan now advance to the semifinals, where they beat France, a team that beat them in the first group match, 72-68.
This match in the quarterfinals was just as much as both teams exchanging clues early. The first quarter ends with Japan leading by three. After that, the host country started to warm up in the second quarter and took a 30-18 lead after an 8-0 run. Belgium responds with their own 12-0 run and the half ends with Belgium 42-41.
Belgium continued its attacking attack in the third quarter. It was led by Emma Messeman, who finished the game with 25 points, and Kim Mestdagh’s incredible 7-of-11 shooting from outside the arc. Belgium led by thirteen in third place, but Japan hung on thanks to its own combination of Yuki Miyazawa and Maki Takada. They combined 86 points for 40 of the teams. Belgium was still in control of the fourth, 68-61.
The fourth quarter was one for the ages, with both teams matching three for three and drawing the score four times. In the end, Japan won by the smallest margin due to the Hayashi winner. The passion was evident on both sides as Japan jumped into the joy of their triumph, while virtually every Belgian player was on the field in tears.
The painful part for Belgium is that it beat Japan in virtually every statistical category. It had a better field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. It also contains more blocks, steals, rebounds and assists. Japan hung on just long enough and hit just a few tries in the fourth to close the gap and secure a victory.
This Japan team has already made history. The women’s team has never come this far in the Olympics. It now has a golden opportunity to defeat France and promote the gold medal. We’ll see if it can do that on Friday if it plays against the team of Gabby Williams.