France made sure of winning their first Olympic women’s basketball medal by beating Russia 81-64 on Thursday to advance to the final against the long-reigning US team.
The US, who have not lost at the Games in 20 years, beat Australia 86-73 in their semi-final to stretch their Olympic winning streak to 40 as they bid for a fifth straight gold.
“We know that the US is so good,” said back-up point guard Edwige Lawson-Wade, who was the high scorer in the game with 18 points. “Every position, every player they have can play really well.
“To beat the US you have to do the perfect game. Perfect in defense, perfect in offence. It’s something that happens once every few years, but it happens. So anything is possible. So we’re going to play that game to win,” she added.
France, who finished fifth in their only previous Olympic women’s tournament at the 2000 Sydney Games, surged to a 24-15 lead in the first quarter after scoring the first eight points.
They built a 13-point lead in the second quarter before Russia closed an 8-2 run to make it 38-31 at halftime.
Russia continued their comeback after the break and, boosted by a three-pointer by Becky Hammon, closed within 42-40.
That seemed to fire up the French, who rallied behind captain Celine Dumerc and Isabelle Yacoubou, and finished the quarter strongly to carry a 59-51 lead into the final quarter which ended in a long celebration for the French.
They danced together in a circle on the court and sang La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, with their fans at the North Greenwich Arena, rejoicing with members of the men’s team including Boris Diaw, Ronny Turiaf and Nicolas Batum.
Besides Lawson-Wade, five other French players scored in double figures in a balanced attack that has carried the unheralded team to a 7-0 tournament record.
“Nobody talks about us. We don’t exist in the Olympic Village,” French coach Pierre Vincent said. “The only way to exist is to win. I told the girls in the locker room, if we win, we will exist.”
Although Hammon complimented France, she said a poor shooting performance in which Russia made little more than a third of their shots had ruined their chances.
“They’re a very good team, they’re playing very well right now. They’re playing very confident,” Hammon said. “We just didn’t have enough offensive firepower. We’ve got good shooters, but you got to make them when the lights come on.”
Alena Danilochkina and Hammon shared scoring honors for EuroBasket champions Russia with 13 points.
The US and France will play the gold medal match today, while Russia and Australia battle for bronze.