TOKYO - Japan's women shocked an undefeated U.S. team packed with WNBA players on Tuesday as 3x3 basketball wound down to the elimination stage at its Olympics debut.
Mai Yamamoto led with eight points, including a critical two-pointer with about a minute left to put her team ahead.
"I prayed when I shot that it would go in," Yamamoto said. "Then it was. I made it, I made it."
Japan had already secured a spot in the playoffs, but head coach Torsten Loibl said beating the United States demonstrated that his team could be medal contenders.
"It's not important to win or lose, but it's a message that we're ready," he said from the stands moments after the final whistle sounded.
A late penalty gave Team USA 1.1 second to tie the game with a two-pointer. But Japan's Stephanie Mawuli blocked an attempt from Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, sealing the 20-18 upset.
Home team heroics continued, as the Japanese men toppled China 21-16 to earn a final spot in the playoffs. Japan had struggled with consistency in the tournament, but seemed to gel in the final pool match, with Keisei Tominaga nailing the win with a two-point shot.
"We have a chance to win, so that's all that matters," said Japan's Tomoya Ochiai. "We had a lot of losses in the qualifying rounds but were intent on making a comeback."
Facing elimination, the Polish men's team fought to a 14-14 tie against Belgium with less than a second left on the game clock. But Thibaut Vervoort hit a buzzer beater two-point shot to seal victory for Belgium and end Poland's Olympic journey.
After final pool matches on Tuesday afternoon, eight teams move on to qualifiers in the evening. On the men's side they will be Latvia, Netherlands, Russian Olympic Committee, and Japan. For the women, it will be China, Japan, France, and Italy.
The U.S. and Russian women, along with the Serbian and Belgian men have secured their spots in the semifinals on Wednesday, which will also feature the medal matches.
With its Olympic debut, 3x3 is looking to boost its global profile as a faster-paced, more compact alternative to traditional basketball.
Enhancing that atmosphere, DJs play hip-hop music throughout competition in 3x3 games, in keeping with the sport's urban roots.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Karishma Singh and Muralikumar Anantharaman)
For breaking news and latest developments on the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, visit https://news.abs-cbn.com/tokyo-olympics