Swoopes' late heroics hold off Russia
Swoopes made three big plays at the end -- two baskets and another on defense -- to help the United States squeeze out a 66-62 semifinal victory over Russia on Friday. Now, only one game stands between the U.S. team and a third straight gold medal -- Australia on Saturday.
"We just weathered the storm,'' Lisa Leslie said. "We showed a lot of heart and stayed together and Swoopes stepped up big at the end.''
Australia beat Brazil 88-75 behind Lauren Jackson's 26 points and 13 rebounds. It's a rematch of the gold medal game in Sydney four years ago, when the United States won 76-54.
Friday's win wasn't easy for the Americans, not by a long shot. And not especially pretty, either. After winning its first six games by an average of 29 points, the Americans found themselves in the rare position of having to fend off an opponent with time running out.
Enter Swoopes, who hadn't made a basket until this game.
With her team clinging to a 60-58 lead, Swoopes buried a jumper from the left wing with 3:54 remaining, just beating the shot clock. She tipped a Russian shot at the other end, then scored again, hitting a 10-footer from the left baseline to make it 64-58 with 3:15 left.
That sigh of relief on the sideline came from U.S. coach Van Chancellor, who abandoned his more casual attire for a sharp gray sports coat and black slacks. By the start of the second half, the coat was off and Chancellor rarely sat down.
"Once I let the first one go, it felt really good. I kind of knew that one was going in,'' said Swoopes, who missed her first five shots and finished 2-for-8. "It felt really good to be able to come through down the stretch because I felt throughout the game I kind of let my teammates down.''
Thompson led the United States with 14 points, including a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. Leslie and Tamika Catchings scored 11 each and Catchings made an absolute pest of herself by poking the ball away, intercepting passes and running down loose balls.
Yolanda Griffith added 10 points.
"We've been through everything now,'' Catchings said. "Now it's a matter of refocusing for the game tomorrow.''
Russia, losing to the United States for the sixth straight time in Olympic and world championships play, got 13 points from Tatiana Shchegoleva and 11 from 6-foot-8 Maria Stepanova.
The United led 37-33 at halftime and never gave up the lead in the second half, but it was still nerve-racking the whole way through.
Leading by as many as eight, the Americans saw their lead whittled to 45-44 when Stepanova made a free throw late in the third quarter.
Thompson's 3-pointer stretched the lead to 57-48 with 8:10 left, but back came Russia again. Or make that back came Oxana Rakhmatulina.
The Russian guard hit a 3 from the top of the key, the ball hitting the rim and backboard before falling through, and scored on a leaner in the lane. When she hit another 3, the lead was 60-58. Then Swoopes stepped up to help the Americans regain control.
"That is the golden player,'' said Dawn Staley, who like Swoopes already has two gold medals. "We know she'll shine at the end of the game."
Lauren Jackson led Australia inside and outside in an 88-75 semifinal victory over Brazil on Friday, setting up a meeting of unbeatens for the Olympic title.
"USA, baby, all the way," Jackson said throughout the tournament when asked to look ahead.
The United States did its part to make Jackson's wish come true, beating Russia 66-62 in the other semifinal.
Four years ago in Sydney, the U.S. team pummeled Australia 76-54 to ruin its dream of homeland gold.
"I believe in percentages and the more times you play a team the better your chances of beating them," Australia coach Jan Sterling said. "Hopefully, one day we'll beat them, and hopefully it's tomorrow."
To get to the rematch, Australia (7-0) had to beat Brazil (4-3) in a replay of a 2000 semifinal. The 6-foot-5 Jackson took care of that with 26 points and 13 rebounds.
The WNBA's MVP with the Seattle Storm last season dominated inside, as she usually does, and helped Australia take a 63-56 lead after three quarters.
Australia opened the fourth quarter with a 14-7 run that featured four 3-pointers, two by Jackson. Her second 3 made it 77-63 with 5:09 to play, and the Australian fans began chanting "We love you, Lauren Jackson." She made another 3 with less than a minute to play.
Trish Fallon added 14 points for Australia, while Penny Taylor, Kristi Harrower and Alicia Poto each had 12.
"There is a lot of physical attention paid to Lauren. People say stop Lauren and you stop the Aussies," Sterling said. "But we had five players in double figures today and can spread that scoring around."
Jackson did a brief TV interview but didn't talk to other reporters.
Iziane Marques scored 25 points to lead Brazil, while Alessandra Oliveira added 20 and four-time Olympian Janeth Arcain had 15.
Brazil beat Spain 67-63 in the quarterfinals and Australia beat New Zealand 94-55. The teams met in the preliminary round, a 84-66 victory for the Aussies.
Once again, Australia's balance and depth wore down Brazil in the semis.
When the score was 47-38 early in the third quarter, eight of the nine Australians who played had scored, while all of Brazil's points came from its three top scorers.
Brazil will play Russia on Saturday for a second straight bronze medal. Brazil won the silver in 1996 and Australia took the bronze.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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