In a game played immediately after the Olympic draw which had placed the three-time defending champions USA and hosts China in the same preliminary round group, a capacity crowd watched their team not just pull off an upset but also come of age.
Miao Lijie scored 26 points and pulled down eight rebounds in a heroic performance for the Chinese.
In the fourth quarter, she was inadvertently slapped in the face as she drove into the lane but did not come out of the game.
The Americans, who have USA legend Lisa Leslie, veteran guard Katie Smith and emerging superstar Sylvia Fowles in their line-up, thrashed the Chinese just two nights ago.
But boosted by a home crowd a team and a world class coach in Tom Maher, China sent out a very loud message that they will be strong contenders for a place on the podium later this summer.
“We’re getting better,” Maher said to FIBA.Com immediately after the game. “But let’s not be ridiculous, they have a lot of good players coming back.
“At least we’re playing proper basketball.”
Leslie, who received loud applause from the Chinese crowd during the awards presentation, had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
For the first time in this event, the USA did not overpower their opponents inside although they did out-rebound the Chinese 42-26.
Anne Donovan’s Americans, who finished third at the FIBA World Championship two years ago in Brazil without Leslie, trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and went to the changing rooms behind 47-39.
They owned the third quarter, though, with Donovan’s team able to get lay-up after lay-up and outscored China 24-14. They eventually finished with 50 of their points scored inside the paint but China also worked hard and got good shots ending up with 46 in the lane.
Team USA went in front by four, but China and the excellent Miao kept their poise and went back into a 74-72 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Near the end, the US did have a chance to level the scores with a three-ball but Leslie missed from the top of the key while well-guarded.
The USA were led by Smith’s 16 while Fowles scored 14 and pulled down eight rebounds.
Swin Cash weighed in with 13 points.
Fowles also blocked two shots.
China forced the US into committing 18 turnovers while they had just 13.