Tina Charles’ 3-Pointers Send USA Women Past France in Pool Play Finale
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A three-time Olympian, Charles previously had attempted just one 3-pointer in 20 Olympic games.
In Monday’s final pool-play game for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team (3-0), veteran center Tina Charles stepped out of her usual duties and hit three big 3-pointers to help the top-ranked U.S. fend off fifth-ranked France (1-2) 93-82 Monday at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
With megastars such as Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird leading the way, and younger players A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, who finished with 22 and 17 points, respectively, establishing their Olympic identities, the 32-year-old Charles has done her job providing interior defense and scoring. But on Monday, she provided the lift the USA needed to put France away.
A three-time Olympian, having won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016, Charles had attempted just one 3-pointer in her previous 20 Olympic games, missing her only try in this year’s opener versus Japan.
“This was preparation meets opportunity,” said Charles, who had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and added five assists. “I think my last two years playing the WNBA I’ve been taking a lot more 3s. I think this year it’s been more efficient.”
Those crucial treys allowed the Americans to win their 52nd-straight Olympic game and finish atop Group B, clinching a spot in the quarterfinals. The USA’s opponent in the quarterfinals, which will be played Wednesday, will be determined following the competition of Monday’s pool play.
“I thought Tina just really gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it,” USA coach Dawn Staley said. “Her ability to score outside the 3 and then she would take her man down in the paint and score for us. We all see offensively what she gave to our team, but defensively, I thought she was a glue out there just directing traffic as well.
“It’s a luxury to have a three-time Olympian come off the bench and impact the game the way she did, and you know that’s our separator. Hopefully we can continue to use our depth to go deep into these Olympic Games.”
In addition to her 22 points, Wilson had seven rebounds, while Stewart added seven rebounds and seven assists to her 17 points. Brittney Griner contributed 11 points, and Jewell Loyd dished out eight assists for the Americans, who have won eight of last nine golds in Olympics the U.S. has participated in (the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics).
France, which lost to Japan (2-1) in the opener before bouncing back to beat Nigeria (0-3), was led by Endene Miyem’s 15 points. France won the silver medal at the 2012 London Games.
The U.S., which is going for its seventh consecutive gold medal, has found increased competition through pool play so far this year.
“I think it was just a really a variety of styles of play,” Stewart said. “We played Nigeria, who’s really physical. We played Japan, who runs all over the place and can knock down 3s. And then France is just a solid team across the board. So, I think it shows the way we’re able to adjust and adapt and continue to do what we do.”
The U.S. found out right away that France — which needed to win or not lose by more than 14 points to advance to the quarterfinals — was not going to go easily.
France was down 9-2 to begin the game but outscored the Americans 20-10 the rest of the quarter for a 22-19 lead. France did that despite its top scorer at these Olympics, 6-foot-4 Sandrine Gruda, being whistled for two fouls just 3:45 into the game. Helena Ciak, Gruda’s 6-6 backup, also drew two quick fouls.
From there, it was like a prize fight, with neither team able to make much of a move on the other.
Charles, who hit her first Olympic 3-pointer with 59 seconds left in the third quarter for a 69-65 U.S. lead, gave the Americans the lead for good when she calmly drained another trey at 8:27 to make it 74-72. Her third 3-pointer came with 5:04 remaining and gave the U.S. an 87-77 cushion.
“I’m always trying to get better at everything that I do as a person, as a player,” Charles said. “In order for me to stay within this league and within the company that I’m in, I just have to keep getting better.”
Doing those extra things is a hallmark of the success the USA has enjoyed in the Olympics. And that spirit easily catches on with the new Olympians. Wilson has averaged 7.9 rebounds in nearly 31 minutes during her four-year WNBA career with the Las Vegas Aces. In addition to being the top U.S. scorer in Tokyo at 20.3 points per game, she is averaging 10.0 rebounds in just over 27 minutes.
“My role in this team is different than it is on the Aces, and I'm going to try to implement that as much as I can and just get possessions for my teammates and making sure that they know that I'm there for them, so they can trust me and hold me accountable,” Wilson said.