France advanced to the Olympic women's basketball quarterfinals with a 93-82 loss to the United States on Monday.
The Olympics have a peculiar format. The 12 teams are in three pools. The top two teams in each pool advance, and the U.S. team had already punched its ticket.
But the two best third-place teams also advance to the quarterfinals, and France needed to keep the margin to 14 or less to ensure its place in the next round.
For a while, it seemed as though France might fulfill the larger ambition of ending the U.S. women's 51-game win streak in Olympic play. France stayed close through most of the game and led 72-71 early in the fourth quarter.
But when the U.S. stormed back in front and pulled away to a double-digit lead, France's goal had to change. That led to odd plays in the final two minutes such as pulling the ball back into a halfcourt set despite having a transition opportunity.
France dribbled out the clock in the final seconds, leaving both teams to celebrate.
This French team came into Tokyo as a legitimate medal contender, having placed fourth in Rio and second in the last two European championships. A shocking loss to Japan in the team's opener left them in a precarious situation.
France bounced back with an 87-62 win against a Nigerian team that had stayed within nine points of the U.S. in its opener. Then in Monday's game, France kept falling behind and coming back.
The U.S. trailed 22-19 after the first quarter, then came back to lead 50-44 at the half. France got within one point multiple times in the third quarter.
With 9:05 left, Marine Fauthoux scored to give France a 72-71 lead. That seemed to awaken the U.S., which stormed out to a 10-point lead over the next four minutes.
With their survival in the tournament suddenly in jeopardy, France came up with a few big plays to hold down the USA's victory margin. Alix Duchet hit a clutch 3-pointer to cut the lead to seven. Neither team scored for more than two minutes until A'ja Wilson made it 89-80. The teams traded baskets after that, and France endured a nervous last minute. Wilson scored again with 13 seconds left, and France happily sat on the ball to avoid giving the U.S. a chance to break the team's heart.
As it was, the score wasn't a reflection of France's play, and a loss that kept them out of the quarterfinals would have been cruel.
The U.S., though, played an exceptional game even with little incentive other than furthering its streak. Wilson finished with 22 points. The team's ball movement wore out the French defense, with 30 baskets coming off assists — eight by Jewell Loyd, seven by Breanna Stewart. Stewart also had 17 points, and Tina Charles hit all three of her 3-point attempts on her way to scoring 15.