Believe it or not, the Japanese have never earned a single medal in men's or women's basketball at the Olympics.
That will end in Tokyo.
Japan took down France Friday morning by a score of 87-71 to earn its first-ever appearance in an Olympic gold medal game. They will play against the United States for the women's basketball title Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. France, meanwhile, will take on Serbia for the bronze medal.
France and Japan's tilt was a back-and-forth affair early on, but Japan eventually started to pull away as the game progressed. Japan had the early advantage thanks to some strong play in the paint, which has not been a staple in the host country's game since the women's competition began. Japan thrives from beyond the arc, but early struggles from deep led them to get into the dirty areas, and they made the most of the opportunities France gave them.
Once Japan found its groove in close quarters, they began to earn more opportunities from deep as France shifted its defensive game plan to protect against drives to the basket. This was the beginning of the end for France, as Japan started hitting threes like it was going out of style to take a 41-34 lead into halftime following a 27-point second quarter.
Maki Takada was integral to Japan's early success, finishing the first half with eight points while Yuki Miyazawa led the squad with nine points through the game's first 20 minutes.
Japan didn't slow down once the third quarter began. In fact, they continued to tyrannize the French from long range. France became visibly defeated following Japan's second 27-point quarter of the game, and they never managed to seriously threaten Japan's lead as the clock wound down to triple zeros.
When it was all said and done, Japan finished the contest with 11 three-point buckets on 22 attempts.
Rui Machida was a superstar throughout the contest for Japan. While she finished with only nine points, she assisted on 18 buckets and had total command of Japan's high-scoring offense from start to finish. The 28-year-old has arguably been the best playmaker in the women's competition, and she came ready to play against France.
Japan will be heavy underdogs against the United States in the gold medal game, but if they play at the level displayed Friday morning, the U.S. may have a bigger challenge on its hands than many realize.