It’s bronze or bust for Team USA women’s wheelchair basketball
By Flavia Festa
In the last match of the day at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball lost its chances of defending the gold medal it won at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Team USA fell to China, 41-36, in a match that definitely did not shine for the shooting percentages of either team.
The first quarter was balanced between the two teams. They both shined in their defenses and lacked in their shooting. At the end of the first quarter, the United States had a 3-point lead. Unfortunately, it was a gap that Team USA was not able to maintain or increase until the end of the match.
But it is in the second quarter where China’s decisive break happened. Not only did China close the 3-point gap from the Americans, but it increased its lead, finishing the first half of the match with a 5-point lead.
After that second quarter, the players coached by Lawrence “Trooper” Johnson did not manage to take back the lead of the game.
Even though China led the match for more than 25 minutes, nothing was decided until the very end. With 1 minute and 30 seconds left, the United States had the chance to tie the match, but as it happened for the rest of the game, the ball simply was not dropping.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure why buckets weren’t going in,” said Team USA’s Natalie Schneider after the match. “But you know, I don’t know. It’s all part of the game.”
When there were only 44 seconds left in the game, the USA was behind by just 2 points. It could have gone either way. But Team USA missed a few chances, and as a result, they had to foul and concede free throws. China didn’t miss the incredible occasion to increase the gap at the end of the match.
“I was super-nervous,” said Zhang Tonglei after scoring four free throws at the end of the match. “When I was shooting the free throws, I was remembering my training in China. At that time, we had to do two laps around the whole court and make two free throws. And if I made two shots, I didn’t have to do the next two laps.”
“And at the end of the game when I was shooting the free throws, I just remembered when I was training and I was thinking, ‘If I can make these two shots, I don’t have to do these two laps,’ ” Zhang added.
In other games of the Paralympics, several U.S. players brought stellar performances to help lift the team. In this game, however, the entire team under-performed, making just 32% of its field goals.
“We kept the USA players far from the hoop,” Team China player Lin Suiling said. “And we kept communicating all through the game and we had good teamwork.”
For Team USA, this is not the first loss to China in this tournament. The matchup in the pool stage also finished with a loss for the Americans and a win for China.
But the Paralympic journey is not over yet for Team USA, as there is still a possibility of bringing home a bronze medal. The team will need to find the strength to get up quickly after this loss.
“We have a really young, resilient team,” Schneider said. “So I think we will bounce back. We’ll take a little time tonight and […] we’ll start preparing for Germany tomorrow and take it from there.”
Team USA will play Germany on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 5:45 p.m. Japan Standard Time.