The semifinal matchup between USA and China was a defensive battle. China’s defensive pressure prevented the U.S. from finding any offensive rhythm, but the young American squad applied equally impressive defense on China. In the end, they held China to just 41 points, but only scored 36 of their own.
These teams were familiar with each other, having faced off in the preliminary round just days earlier. That was another tight match up where China came from behind in the fourth quarter to win. The major driver for this loss was the 32% field goal shooting.
In an Ariake Arena unable to host fans, a countdown by the USA bench to indicate the shot clock was about to expire could often be heard. China’s pressure in the half court forced late passes and shots that were slightly outside of the USA shooters’ comfort zone.
Head Coach, Trooper Johnson, shared his thoughts on China’s performance.
“Hats off to China, they played an incredible game,” he said. “Once we got over half court and had our offense set, they did a really good job of extending pressure on us.”
After an explosive Paralympic debut from Lindsey Zurbrugg in the opening game against Netherlands, teams were scheming to pressure her. China was no different and Zurbrugg had a tough night against them.
Zurbrugg also emphasized China’s intense defense.
“China’s a heck of a team, they’re number 1 in our pool for a reason. Their defense was putting a lot of pressure on us and we needed to keep space and run some things and we just did not execute them to our full potential,” she said.
China maintained their undefeated status by hitting their shots from the free throw line. They went 13 for 15 from the line, including down the last stretch of the game where Coach Johnson was trying to create extra possessions. The Chinese hit all eight free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, an impressive feat when the stakes are a first-ever opportunity to compete for gold in the Paralympics.
USA will face Germany who lost in the other semifinal to Netherlands, and will have Thursday off to prepare for that game. Resetting your mindset from a gold medal pursuit to now playing in a bronze medal game is not easy. Co-Captain, Darlene Hunter, talked about the team’s mindset moving forward.
“We’re just gonna regroup, make sure that everyone stays positive with each other, brings each other back together,” she said. “There’s still a medal to win. You know, it’s not over for us – we still have one more game. We have nothing to lose, come home with a medal.”
How will Zurbrugg make the most of this bronze medal opportunity?
“Personally, I know the journey is not over, we have another game to play. I need to focus on my shot and pretend I’m at the gym back home and just focusing and trusting on my shot and my form knowing that I’ve shot that shot thousands of times,” she said.
The Bronze Medal Game between USA and Germany will take place Saturday, September 4th at 5:45PM Japan Standard Time from Ariake Arena.