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Basketball: Japan women’s team beats Canada to qualify for Olympics

Star guard Mai Yamamoto came up clutch for Japan as the Tokyo Games silver medalist booked its place in the Paris Olympics women’s basketball tournament with a tense 86-82 victory over Canada on Sunday.

Akatsuki Japan advanced to its third straight Olympics by winning the four-team qualifying tournament in Sopron, Hungary, with a 2-1 record.

Japan’s Mai Yamamoto (23) attempts a field goal during a women’s basketball Olympic qualifier against Canada in Sopron, Hungary, on Feb. 11, 2024. (Kyodo)

Head coach Toru Onzuka’s world No. 9 squad came into its final game of the round-robin needing to defeat fifth-ranked Canada to make sure of its ticket to Paris.

Yamamoto and power forward Evelyn Mawuli led Japan with 21 points apiece, while livewire guard Saori Miyazaki added 16.

The 24-year-old Yamamoto got her team across the line with big plays down the stretch of the final quarter. She made a contested layup to give Japan an 85-80 lead with 41 seconds left, then effectively sealed the game when she drew a foul and hit one free throw to go up by four at 0:17.

Japanese players celebrate after qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic women’s basketball tournament by beating Canada 86-82 in Sopron, Hungary, on Feb. 11, 2024. (Kyodo)

“We had to win, so I’m glad we all battled together to get this result,” Yamamoto said.

“This is just the start. We want to go to an even higher level and win gold at the Paris Olympics.”

Japan started the tournament strongly by beating favorite Spain 86-75, but faced the prospect of missing out on the Olympics after a shock 81-75 loss to host Hungary on Friday.

The Japanese women’s basketball team poses for a photo after qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics by beating Canada 86-82 in Sopron, Hungary, on Feb. 11, 2024. (Kyodo)

“The team won by playing together as one. I’m really happy,” Onzuka said.

“Canada was also a strong team, so we expected a difficult game. Everyone believed in each other and fought with determination.”


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