by Paul Nilsen
France won the bronze medal game in Naples after a stellar first 20 minutes helped them claim a superb 75-46 victory over Russia.
It was very much a case of de ja vous for Russia Coach Anna Arkhipova Von Kalmanovich who has impressed as a coach during the tournament but was left to watch on helplessly as her team repeated the terrible start that proved so costly in yesterdays semi-final with Spain.
For France, who started their time in Naples so well and for a long time were considered as maybe the favourites to win gold, it was the kind of performance that they needed to finish the tournament.
|Esther Moisan Niamke was finally able to come close to her impressive play at the U18 European Championship and takes home a bronze medal|
The celebrations after the end of the game showed what it meant to the players and also to Coach Arnaud Guppillotte who admitted he was pleased with the outcome of his time in Naples - despite missing out on the Final.
"We arrived with many goals and while we are of course not happy that we did not reach the Final, I think we still reached all of our objectives."
"I think it was important to qualify for the World Championships, reach the last four of this tournament and of course to get on the podium."
The play-caller joked that he had no idea whether he would continue to take his current team forward into 2010 but insisted some fine tuning could take France to a higher level on the court.
"I do not know if I will stay with the team of course because this is not my decision. I know that we have a lot of potential even still to achieve much more."
"Importantly I do not think that we have to raise our standards generally, it is just getting the opportunity to work with the players on the little important things in the game."
"They have so much potential and now have this big experience of playing in these championship and that will be very important."
The contest itself started with Tikhonenko scoring the first basket of the game and helping her side into an early lead, France rattled off an 11-0 run to stun the Russians as they stormed into a 17-5 lead.
Things got worse as a lay-up by Esther Moisan Niamke extended the advantage to 23-9 but Russia rallied as Darya Namok sunk a deep triple to try and fire-up her team-mates.
However Russia had found it difficult to match the intensity and play of Margaux Galliou who crashed to the hoop for a wonderful score as her 10 points and 6 rebounds in the period helped France take the first quarter by 25-13.
Perhaps inspired by the decision of the Spanish to pressure the Russian guards who have depth but no outstanding ball handler, Coach Guppillotte kept with the strategy of pressuring the ball and it helped keep his team in front.
|Darya Namok contributed 9 pts in the loss|
A three-pointer by Alina Zamaraeva briefly reduced the margin to single digits at 30-21 but France continued to beat Russia down the court in transition. Moisan Niamke scored with a lay-up and also drew the foul which meant the score was 39-23 after she converted the free-throw for an impressive ‘And-1' play.
Russia were certainly working very hard to edge their way back into the game ahead of half-time but the superior quickness of France made it tough for them to make too much of an impression.
Zamaraeva at least ended the first twenty minutes for Russia with the last basket of the half but they still trailed 44-29 and once again stepped off the court ruing their first quarter display.
The third quarter began poorly for Russia, the excellent slashing wing play of Claire Stievenard helping France get to the hoop to open up a 51-30 lead and they continued to shade matters heading into the final ten minutes.
58-36 in front, France showed no signs of slowing down their onslaught. Tikhonenko did at least step outside for a triple with just over 5 minutes left, to remind any coaches yet to cast their votes for MVP and the All Tournament Team of her attributes.
In truth it was a rare bright spot in another disappointing Russian performance. The Russia team had played some great team basketball during the tournament but came up way short down the stretch.
As for France, they ruthlessly kept their foot on the gas in the closing stages to secure a podium finish and that coveted bronze medal.