France And Russia Go For Gold

20.06.2009

By Jeff Taylor

France have returned to the title game of the EuroBasket Women for the first time since their gold-medal winning year of 2001.

They beat Russia in the title game that year, 73-68.

French fans will be hoping that history repeats itself.

In the years that have followed that championship, however, Russia have moved from strength to strength while France have faded - until this year.

The decision by Cathy Melain,  who had 17 points in that 2001 title triumph, to delay her retirement from basketball and to play for France again for the first time since 2005 has been significant.

"Cathy has brought in calmness," France point guard Celine Dumerc said.

"She has confidence, experience and she has helped us a lot.

"She is one of the best players in French history but above all, she is a team player."

France will attempt to beat Russia for the second time in this year's big event and deny Maria Stepanova and Co a third championship since 2003.

Center Sandrine Gruda has been their leading player in the Baltics this summer, averaging 15.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

It's been the return of Melain that seems to have made the biggest difference, though.

Vincent revealed after the Semi-Final win over Belarus that he had a burning-bush moment.

"I was in my garden cutting the grass when I saw the schedule and I decided to ask Cathy to come back," he said.

"I had to convince Cathy to come back because she thought it was big mistake for her to return. But now she feels stupid because she is in the final game."

Russia have, as is normally the case, only begun to look like championship material since reaching the Quarter-Finals.

In Becky Hammon's first game, the team lost to France but since then they have won in overtime against Latvia (69-64) and in the last four against Spain (77-61).

In their crunch game against previously unbeaten Spain, Russia overcame a sluggish start to lead by two points at half-time and then extended the lead to 48-42 by the end of the third quarter.

Russia had relied on the experience of center Stepanova (a member of  their 2001 team) and all-round versatile play of Svetlana Abrosimova to that stage, but with 10 minutes remaining Hammon took over.

She poured in eight points in a 10-0 run to start to the fourth quarter that allowed Russia to open a 16-point lead and they stayed in command the rest of the way.

Hammon, an American who first played for Russia last summer, ended up scoring a game-high 28 points against Spain. She had 18 of those in the fourth quarter.

"I'm definitely looking forward to the final," said Hammon, who missed the first five games of the EuroBasket Women while on WNBA duty with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

"We learned a lot from our game against France. We come out with more focus. I think it's going to be important to contain Gruda and Dumerc and get a good start."

Last Time Out: France beat Russia in the Qualifying Round of this EuroBasket Women on June 16, 72-66.

Stats: Russia out-rebounded France 40-27 in their game but committed 20 turnovers to just nine for the Blues.

Key Match-Up: Stepanova of Russia v Sandrine Gruda of France. Stepanova had her best game of the EuroBasket Women against Spain with 19 points and 16 rebounds.

Sounding Off: "It's a dream for us, let us dream. We have one more game, we have nothing to lose, we will play with no stress. To remember that basketball is a team sport, the star is the team and when it turns up, you can do a lot of things" - France coach Pierre Vincent


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