Previewing the gold-medal and bronze-medal games
For the past 10 days, the best women’s basketball teams in Europe have had one goal in front of them: the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket championship. There were plenty of storylines in the knockout rounds. The traditionally powerful Russian team had managed to be one of the final eight after a slow start. The upstart British had fought all the way to their first semi-finals behind the spectacular play of Johannah Leedham and Temi Fagbenle. The Serbian co-hosts were still there for the hometown fans.
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In the end, it will come down to the two top-ranked teams in the tournament. FIBA’s second-ranked team, Spain, will try to maintain their superiority over No. 4 France in Sunday’s championship game. Great Britain will face Serbia in the third-place match-up.
The Championship: Spain vs. France
These two teams have met in the EuroBasket finals more than any other pair. They also have a rather one-sided rivalry. In their previous three match-ups in the EuroBasket championship game, Spain has emerged victorious every time.
Overall, the two countries have played each other eight times in EuroBasket. The Spanish side has a 5-3 lead in the rivalry.
Spain does have to overcome a bit of history, though. They are trying to do something that no country has done since the 1991 Soviet Union team – defend a EuroBasket title. Of course, the Spanish won’t approach the dominance of the Soviet team, which won 17 straight titles before their streak was snapped.
In this tournament, the Spanish team started out strong, putting up 95 points against Ukraine in an 18-point victory. After that, they seemed to take a step back in the group stage. Although they went undefeated, they beat the upstart British team by just 8 points, then squeaked by co-host Latvia in a 59-56 win.
Of course, when Spain faced Latvia, there was really only pride on the line. The Spanish side had already secured the top spot in Group A. Once they reached the quarterfinals, it was do-or-die and they came roaring back in a 24-point victory over a Russian team that didn’t have its best tournament. That was followed by a 71-66 victory over Serbia in the semi-finals.
France will have to find a way to slow down Astou Ndour, who led Spain in scoring in four of their five games. The 6-foot-6 center has averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds in the team’s five games.
The French side is led behind the play of shooting guard Marine Johannes and center Sandrine Gruda. Johannes and Gruda have taken turns leading the team in scoring with each pacing the French side in two contests; Olivia Epoupa was the leading scorer in the opening game.
Gruda has been the most reliable scorer for France, putting up double digits in four of the team’s five games. Johannes has been much more hit-or-miss, averaging only 9.6 points per game with a high of 20 points against Great Britain in the semi-finals. She was held scoreless by Sweden in the final game of group play.
As a team, France has outscored its opponents by a greater margin than Spain, averaging 76 ppg while holding its opponents to 63. Spain has averaged 74 ppg and held its opponents to 62.4 over the course of the tournament.
History says that this should be Spain’s game to lose, but the team has shown some vulnerability over the past week-and-a-half. On paper, France is their toughest opponent yet. Can the French side win their first championship match-up against Spain?
The battle for third place: Serbia vs. Great Britain
The British team had never advanced to the EuroBasket semi-final before. That monkey is off their back now. Their next goal is to qualify for the Olympic Games next year. Prior to the semi-final loss to France, Leedham said that they believe they can do it. They also hope to inspire their country to care about basketball.
A win against Serbia could certainly help them do that, and they stand a good chance. The two countries have split their previous two match-ups.
The British side has a record of 4-2 so far in the tournament. The two losses came against the teams playing for the title. They averaged 68.5 ppg and allowed their opponents to score 62.3.
They will need Temi Fagbenle to return to form in their final game, though. She led them in scoring in four of their six games, averaging 25 ppg in those wins. In the loss to France, Fagbenle scored only 10.
Serbia will rely on a committee. They have been led in scoring by a different player in five of their six games. Only Jelena Brooks led them more than once.
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