LONDON (Reuters) - 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 United States team.
The U.S., 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.
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 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.
Diminutive point guard Edwige Lawson-Wade scored 18 points to pace the balanced French attack which had six players in double figures.
Alena Danilochkina and Hammon shared scoring honors for EuroBasket champions Russia with 13 points.
The United States and France will play the gold medal match on Saturday when Russia and Australia battle for bronze.
Editing by Ken Ferris