By Joseph Wilson
France earned a spot in the Final of EuroBasket Women 2009 with a 64-56 win over Belarus on Friday.
The two teams had already played just eleven days prior in the Preliminary Round. In that meeting France had to pull out a 63-61 win in overtime.
While the first half was a close game, France opened up a 15-point lead on a three by Endene Miyem with two minutes to go in the third quarter and Belarus never managed to mount a seriously challenge afterwards.
"I am really, really happy. It's amazing that when we started the competition we didn't know our place and now we know it is in the final," said French point guard Celine Dumerc, who led her team with 13 points, three assists, and three steals.
France will play the winner of the other Semi-Final between Russia and Spain for the gold.
"It's like a dream for us, so let us dream," said French coach Pierre Vincent, who was gracious in celebrating his team's victory.
"I just want to congratulate my colleague Antatoli Buyalski. He did a great job, his team was really down early in the tournament and he succeeded to bring the team back to compete for a medal."
Belarus will take on the loser of the other Semi-Final with the goal of defending their bronze from EuroBasket 2007.
"We are still fighting for a medal tomorrow, and it's not so bad so far for us" said coach Buyalski whose team started the tournament 1-3 before winning two do-or-die games to make the Qualification Round.
"Maybe we were lacking some emotions today, and we were not too confident. Also the game of our shooting guards was not helpful today."
Belarus's three shooting guards shot a combined 0-for-6 from the field for just one point between them.
The biggest similarity between the two French victories over Belarus appears on the stat sheet. In both games, France dominated the free-throw margin. In their first meeting they shot 20-for-26 from the charity stripe and today they went 17-of-20.
Belarus only managed six points from eight trips to the line in both games.
France got 37 points from their four frontcourt players- Sandrine Gruda (10), Emmeline Ndongue (8), Endene Miyem (11), and Isabelle Yacoubou-Dehoi (8).
"We lost today defensively first of all, but we have to take some responsibility on offense also," said Belarus point guard Natallia Marchanka, who scored ten points, all in the first half.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of and we need to keep our heads up and get ready for the game tomorrow and fight for a medal.
"I am proud of my teammates, some of who are not as healthy as we want them to be."
The scoring opened at the :04 second mark with a steal and lay-up by France's Pauline Krawczyk. The quick bucket set the tone for a first half of good offense from both squads.
Marchanka lead Belarus with two threes and a steal that she turned into an assist for Yelena Leuchencka (game-high 14 points) to put Belarus up 10-5 early in the first quarter.
French center Emmeline Ndongue's old-fashioned three point play tied it at 10.
The teams shot the ball well and the quarter ended with France leading 20-18.
In the second quarter the teams continued to trade baskets.
Four points from Endene Miyem off the bench put France ahead 24-22 early in the quarter, but a baseline jumper with the shot clock running down by Marhcanka evened it at 24 with 6:27.
Out of a timeout by coach Vincent, Gruda scored four points in a row and France went on a 7-0 run that put them ahead 35-27 with under four to play.
The half came to a close with the French up 40-34.
A Dumerc three put France ahead ten early in the third, but Anastasiya Verameyenka got Belarus to within six with a bank shot off a steal (40-46).
France then went on a 9-0 run.
The triple by Miyem pushed lead to 15 with 2:00 to play.
Tatyana Troina's first points of the game on a long jumper cut the deficit to 13 going into the fourth.
A Ndongue score from the inside off a pass from Gruda pushed lead back to 15 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
France proceeded to commit four turnovers on four consecutive plays against the Belarus pressure and Volha Padabed hit a three to cut it to ten (59-49 ) with five to play. But a three pointer by Dumerc at put her team ahead by 12 and put to rest any thoughts of another Belarus miracle.