- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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RODEZ, France -- It was just one of those matchups for the Japanese. The American team has struggled most when the game is slowed down, yet Japan is at its best running. Playing up and down did net the Japanese 71 points, the highest total against the U.S. so far, but it also allowed Team USA 133 points, the highest total so far in the tournament.
On the other hand, this game could have been ripe for an upset as there was nothing to gain in seeding since the USA locked up first place in the pool with its win Tuesday over Turkey.
"We weren't really looking at that, the fact that we already qualified. We just come out every day and every game and try to bring our A-game and bring our best game. We don't look at the score we just try to improve ourselves every play and every possession and get our best game so we can carry it on to these next three games in Toulouse."
The Japanese team, arguably, had a quickness advantage. They run the floor and push tempo regardless of the situation and have been one of the most entertaining teams in the Rodez pool because of their style. This style forced USA to change it's strategy a bit. Instead of sending four players to the offensive boards, head coach Barb Nelson decided to have the player defending the shooter also sprint back to keep two transition defenders in position.
The strategy worked as Japan scored only eight points off of fastbreaks.
"We've never played a game that fast. I know I was talking to Ariel (Massengale) in the locker room and she says that's her favorite type of game so I think we really enjoyed this fast pace and the type of game Japan brought to us."
With the game at near Formula One pace, the minutes were really balanced. In previous games the second units disappointed Nelson in their execution and focus but that was far from the case tonight. Seven players scored in double-figures for Team USA, led by the 30 points from Breanna Stewart who played just 17:35. Two more had eight points. With the scoring distributed on the perimeter and dominance established on the inside the coaching staff felt the game plan was executed perfectly.
Concern coming into the game was point guard play when Massengale, who had 10 assists against Japan, was out of the game. Today all the guards for the USA had the eye of the tiger.
"I think they are," Nelson said of her backup point guard play improving, "I think they recognized if they want to get quantity minutes, not just quality minutes, that they have to be able to lead the team in what we're running and I think they have improved as the tournament has gone on. You know that's a position we needed to improve in and I think we've done that, so I'm hopeful they will pack that in their suitcase and take it to Toulouse."
The tone after the first four games was on the tense side, despite the huge margins of victory. With pool play now behind them the tune has changed quite a bit.
"I am very satisfied with them today," Nelson said of her team's overall performance. "They knew what the game plan was. We knew we had a size advantage so the game plan was to go inside as early and as often as we possibly could and establish in the paint, forcing them to defend that to get a little easier shots on the perimeter."
Stewart came out possessed, scoring 13 of her points in the first quarter. The posts players collectively scored 74 of the team's 133 points.
The strategy was to work on the team's half court execution in pool play so they would be ready for the medal rounds against better teams who may be able to slow the run-and-gun show down. It led to the frustrating moments early but appears to have run it's course as the team is primed to square off with either Australia, China or Spain, depending on tonight's outcome in Toulouse between China and Spain.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
Using Japan's tactics to its advantage, USA raced to a 133-71 win.