France 66 Russia 79

26.09.2003

From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Patras

Fra-Russia18.jpg
Irina Ossipova
Russia were slow out of the gate but they galloped home and into the semi-finals of the European Championships with a 79-66 triumph over holders France.

Alain Jardel admitted before the tournament that his side probably wouldn´t retain the title and his players proved him right though they can´t be faulted for effort.

Les Bleues stormed out to an early advantage which reached seven points (17-10) when Nicole Antibe sank a jump shot from 10 feet with a minute and five seconds to play in the opening quarter.

Antibe was a monster to that point with eight points.

Russia, who started Maria Stepanova at centre and left Elena Baranova on the bench, needed a spark and it arrived in the form of Ioulia Skopa.

She scored four points in the final minute, including a baseline jumper when time expired.

A sensational fastbreak from Baranova, who didn´t panic and dribbled past halfcourt before passing to Skopa, set up the basket to keep the Russians in it at 19-15.

Antibe scored her 10th point 45 seconds into the second quarter, but after Anna Arkhipova made one of two free throws, Skopa scored on a drive to the basket and then with a three-pointer to tie the game at 23-23 with 6:35 to play before the interval.

A pair of Cathy Melain free throws and a Sandra Le Drean jumper from eight feet gave Jardel´s troops a four-point lead again, but it was to be shortlived.

Irina Ossipova made two free throws and then Arkhipova scored and converted a three-point play after being fouled on a drive to the basket to give the Russians their first advantage since the opening minutes when they had led 2-0.

France would never lead again.

Baranova, who would finish with 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, sank two from the line to make it 30-27, and after a Audrey Sauret jumper for France, a Maria Kalmykova basket followed by Skopa bucket left the French five points in arrears at 34-29.

Skopa scored one more time on a drive in the final seconds to give Russia a 36-31 half-time lead.

France kept it close in the early stages of the second half, but Kalmykova and Baranova made sure the Russians stayed in control with nine points each and they led 62-46 at the end of three.

Both were crucial figures in the fourth quarter, as well as Skopa who finished with a game high 17 points.

"In Russia," Baranova told PA International after the game, "we have a saying that Russia are slow starting but quick finishing."

Now Russia await the winner of Spain´s quarter-final against Serbia & Montenegro.

And their chances of going all the way?

"Of course we´re excited," Baranova said, "but we have to win one more game to make sure we get to the Olympics and that is our first goal."


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