France beats Russia 81-64 in Olympic women's hoops
LONDON -- France just doesn't want the Olympic party to end.
Singing and dancing their way around the court after knocking off another women's basketball power, France advanced to its first gold medal game with a 81-64 victory over Russia on Thursday.
Edwige Lawson-Wade scored 18 points and Emilie Gomis added 15 points for France, which will play the U.S. on Saturday in a matchup of the only two unbeaten teams in the tournament.
While the French found ways to win tight games in the preliminary rounds, they jumped out in front of Russia early -- scoring 10 of the game's first 11 points and never looked back.
Celine Dumerc continued her stellar play for France. She finished with 11 points against Russia and has hit several clutch shots for France during its impressive Olympic run.
Becky Hammon scored 13 points to lead Russia, which will play Australia for the bronze medal.
The French have been on the rise in women's basketball over the past few years. They won the European Championship in 2009 and qualified for the Olympics for the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games where they finished fifth. In this tournament France has already defeated Australia in an overtime thriller and now topped Russia twice.
France, playing in only its second Olympics, is assured of winning its first medal in women's basketball with the semifinals win.
The French players are enjoying the ride.
They celebrated after leaving the court with fans, who continued to sing as they were escorted out of the arena long after the players had headed to the locker room.
France built an early 14-point lead, but Russia rallied behind Hammon. Trailing by seven at the break, Russia cut its deficit to 42-40 early in the third quarter and Hammon had a chance to give her team its first lead of the game, but she missed a 3-pointer from the corner.
Gomis then made a 3-pointer for France on its next possession and Dumerc added another from behind the arc.
Russia once again closed within 53-50 with 1:20 left in the third quarter, but Sandrine Gruda's three-point play and Dumerc's 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third gave France a 59-51 lead and set off a wild celebration in the stands by the strong French crowd, who were waving their flags proudly.
Russia could get no closer in the fourth quarter as France blew the game open.
Hammon, 35, is playing in her second Olympics for Russia. She became a Russian naturalized citizen before the Beijing Games. Because she hadn't played for the United States in any major FIBA-sanctioned international events, she is allowed to compete for Russia in the Olympics.
The 5-foot-6 South Dakota native helped Russia win the bronze medal at the Beijing Games. This is the third straight Olympics that Russia has reached the semifinals, but the team had to settle for the bronze in Athens -- falling to the U.S. in 2004 and 2008.
Now they'll try for a third straight bronze when they face Australia on Saturday. Russia hasn't won a gold medal since 1992 when the country was known as the Unified Team.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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