Published: 10 Aug 2012 09:35 GMT+02:00 | Print version
Updated: 10 Aug 2012 09:35 GMT+02:00
As the last seconds ticked away in France's 81-64 victory over Russia to reach the Olympic women's basketball final, French captain Celine Dumerc began dancing as she dribbled the ball on court.
Unable to contain her joy, she sat the ball upon the court and joined her team-mates in a group hug, everyone dancing on the court at the final buzzer as the celebration of France's first appearance in a women's Olympic hoops final went on and on.
"Everyone is happy and for France they will talk about women's basketball now," Dumerc said.
France has nearly a dozen NBA players and the success of such players as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw has popularized the men's game.
But the men were ousted in the quarter-finals while the women have run through the Olympics undefeated and will play the United States for gold on
"The guys are out so this is for them and the country," said France center Emmeline Ndongue. "Truly I gave everything because we never know what can
happen. Wow, we're in the final. No words. Just cries of happiness."
For French coach Pierre Vincent, the victory means his team might just capture a moment of attention by outlasting the men at London.
"We only exist when we win, and we have won," he said, taking a swipe at his foes as well by saying, "The Russians' lack of humility, over-confidence
and almost arrogance cost them the game."
The Russians, who never led, will play the Aussies for bronze.
"We just didn't play very well," Russia's Becky Hammon said. "We're going to fight like hell to get a bronze."
The French, whose best prior Olympic women's basketball finish was fifth in 2000, are 1-6 against the Americans, who beat Australia 86-73 in the other
semi-final, in Olympic and world championship play, their win coming in 1971.
"When we play basketball, we aren't scared of any team," French starting centre Sandrine Gruda said. "This is a good group. We know how to fight and we
are going to do it on Saturday too."
Forget the US Women's NBA stars are going for their fifth gold medal in a row and that the Americans are on a 40-game Olympic win streak. They might be
a Women's Dream Team. But the French women are living a dream as well.
"It's fantastic. I want to dream everything. I don't want to wake up," said Gruda. "History. This is huge for us. We can't realize what we are living. But
I want to enjoy it all."
Edwige Lawson-Wade scored a game-high 18 points but expected a tear-filled night.
"I will cry the rest of the night with joy," she said. "It's impossible to describe it with words. Maybe it's happiness, adrenaline, everything. We
showed the world we know how to play basketball. We are united and we believe in us."
Four days after beating Russia in a group match, France seized command early despite two early fouls that kept Olympic scoring leader Dumerc on the
bench much of the first half.
The Russians, who never led, came within 42-40 by opening the third quarter with a 9-2 run but France's stayed in front and Dumerc came off the bench to
sink a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to put France ahead 59-51.
Dumerc's basket launched a 20-5 French run that sealed Russia's fate.
Hammon and Alena Danilochkina each had 13 to lead Russia.
"We should have won this game and probably should be in the final," said Danilochkina. "But now we will make our best effort against Australia. We want
to leave here with a medal."
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