Semi-Finals Women: USA 66 - RUS 62
USA survives Russian semis challenge
ATHENS - The United States faced down the strongest challenge yet to its gold medal intentions by holding back hard-charging Russia 66-62 in the semifinals of Women's Olympic Basketball on Friday at Olympic Indoor Hall.
USA, going for its third consecutive gold, advances to the final on Saturday to meet either Australia or Brazil, who tip off at 16:45 today in the second semifinal.
With aggressive defense to spare all game, USA led Russia for all but two possessions, but could not breathe easy until veteran forward Sheryl SWOOPES nailed clutch, back-to-back jump shots with less than four minutes left.
Russia was just two points behind, 60-58, when SWOOPES beat the shot clock with her first jumper. Next, she stopped and popped from the baseline to make it 64-58.
Tina THOMPSON led USA with 14 points, including five in the last quarter. Tamika CATCHINGS and Lisa LESLIE added 11 each and Yolanda GRIFFITH 10 for the winners.
Tatiana SHCHEGOLEVA paced Russia with 13 points, while 2.14-meter Maria STEPANOVA had 11, Ilona KORSTIN and Elena BARANOVA 10 each.
Russia was resilient early to what would prove to be game-long defensive pressure by USA. The Russians found enough baskets inside to tie at 12-12 before the first three-point shot of the game, by BARANOVA, supplied a 15-14 lead. LESLIE had scored six points already. Diana TAURASI came off the bench for a jump shot to give USA a 16-15 edge after 10 minutes.
Although SHCHETGOLEVA put Russia ahead briefly, USA reeled off a 10-2 run bracketed by 3-pointers from THOMPSON and CATCHINGS to lead 26-19. That advantage would eventually reach 34-26, but with BARANOVA dropping another triple and STEPANOVA the last shot of the half, Russia reduced the difference to 37-33.
USA bolted ahead again with two shots by LESLIE for a 45-37 advantage midway through the third quarter, but Anna ARKHIPOVA then hit a three-pointer to revive Russia. The next six points went Russia's way, too, with STEPANOVA's fifth of the quarter, a free throw, drawing her team within 45-44. Point guard Shannon JOHNSON ended that threat for the USA with consecutive one-on-one baskets that restored a 51-44 USA advantage after 30 minutes.
A basket-plus-foul by GRIFFITH and a triple from THOMPSON seemed to put USA in full control at 59-50 with 7:20 to play. Then Oxana RAKHMATULINA climbed off Russia's bench and became the only player to score a basket over the next four minutes. RAKHMATULINA sandwiched two three-point shots around a shorter one to make it 60-58 with 4:23 left. That is when SWOOPES ended a USA drought with a jump shot on the 24th and final second of the shot clock. Her next shot and another by Thompson deflated Russia's comeback hopes and kept USA's gold hunt alive.
With the loss, Russia will play in the bronze medal game Saturday, 28 August against the loser between Brazil and Australia.
Van CHANCELLOR, Head Coach (USA)
"What a Basketball game. Russia did a great job. Coach KAPRANOV had a tremendous game plan. But I am proud that my team found a way to win. Thank goodness for Sheryl SWOOPES, she made big baskets and pulled down huge rebounds down the stretch. It was the first real close game we had in this tournament, we responded well and were fortunate enough to win."
Sheryl SWOOPES, Forward (USA)
"It was a very good game. Both teams played extremely hard for forty minutes. Having played against Russia in the 2002 World Championships, we knew what kind of team they are. It's great for the Olympic Games and international Basketball that such games are played. A lot of people were expecting us to dominate, but international teams have become so much better. Russia started with a big lineup, denying us the entry pass and threatening from the perimeter. We had some players that gave us a lift stepping up from the bench, and tomorrow we will have a shot at the gold medal."
Maria STEPANOVA, Center (RUS)
"We thought we could win, and we played hard, but didn't make it. Perhaps we were not psychologically ready to beat them."
|Press conference quotes:|
Maria STEPANOVA (RUS), Centre
On the bronze medal match:
"We will give 100% of our efforts and energy tomorrow. I believe that the Bronze medal is ours."
Anna ARKIPOVA (RUS), Guard
On the game:
"Our team had four or five players that did very well both offensively and defensively. Towards the end of the game, they got tired. On the other hand, the United States team is a complete team, made up of twelve players and it is very difficult to play against them."
Yolanda GRIFFITH (USA), Forward/Centre
On the game:
"We knew that it was going to be a tough game coming in. We came in prepared in depth. You cannot believe that at one game away from the Gold medal you can blow out the other teams that easily. We needed this game as a test, before a big crowd, it woke us up and was a challenge for what is still ahead. We did not play to the full of our ability today; we have to do so tomorrow. We made good defensive stops towards the end. We could have done a lot better at rebounding, but Russia is a very tall team and we could not get in. STEPANOVA (Maria) is 6.8' ft, and I am 6.4' ft. I tried to stop her but she was able to get the shots. However, one player is not going to beat us. No matter how close the game got, we always knew that something good was going to come, either with a rebound or a big three, so we were not concerned."
On the team's performance:
"I played with four of the players from the Russian team for two seasons back home and it was tough playing against them here. However, whenever somebody puts a USA jersey on, everybody tries to fight as hard as they can. I know that whoever wins today, it will be a dogfight tomorrow. It will take a lot of work, but we are not going to give that Gold medal away to anyone."
On their opponents:
"The rest of world has gotten pretty close to our level of playing. We used to be up there when the other teams were just learning how to play basketball, and now they have big players shooting three pointers. It is unheard of, but that is what they are doing."
Lisa LESLIE (USA) center
On the game:
"The most aggressive game we played was against New Zealand. It was a fun game out there. It is always when we play against Russia. We have to work hard for everything against them. Both teams have very good coaches and it was like playing chess. The two teams were affective and strong. A lot of our shots went in and out today, but we came out to win and we found the way to do it".
On the final:
"Probably it will be Australia in the final, a repetition of the final of Sydney. I expect pretty much the same result, like last year. I haven't watch a lot of other games here in Athens, but I know they have a team similar to ours and Lauren JACKSON who is a very affective player".
Elena BARANOVA (RUS)
On the game:
"We played very hard and we were very close in the end. I have a couple of questions for the referee though and also for the organisation. They changed everything for USA: The colours of the uniform, the time of the game. People are changing rules for USA. These are the Olympic Games and the rules must be the same for all the teams".
On the game for the Bronze medal:
"I still don't know which team is going to be our opponent. We have played against both teams and we know their strong points and also their weaknesses. I cannot guess though which team will win".
On the USA team:
"The women's team is bringing the best of the best. Their team is the all star game. It is something that does not happen with the men's team. The Europeans are getting closer every year though and the time for someone to beat USA is not far away, because they also have to change all this generation."
RUS Coach Vadim KAPRANOV was not feeling well and did not appear in the Press Conference.
Source: Athens news service