The French squad, which has been on the rise lately, got 12 points from point guard Celine Dumerc and clinched the top spot in their group Sunday with a 65-54 win over Russia in the women's Olympic basketball tournament.
France won the European Championship in 2009 and qualified for the Olympics for only the second time. The French finished fifth in the 2000 Sydney Games, but in this tournament have defeated Australia in an overtime thriller and now Russia — the silver and bronze medallists , respectively, at the Beijing Games.
"We have a good generation right now," said French forward Sandrine Gruda, who played for the Connecticut Sun for a few seasons. "That's really important and this has been a great start for us."
The win Sunday means France (5-0) will avoid a matchup with the U.S. until the gold medal game if the Americans beat China later in the day and both teams continue to advance.
The U.S. and France are the only unbeaten teams in the tournament.
"To be first, second and third was all we cared about and not cross against USA," French coach Pierre Vincent said. "I think they are unbeatable. Now we have a game we can win. We are focused on enjoying the Olympics and taking it step by step by step."
Dumerc, the captain of the team, has been the catalyst for this run. Her 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining helped beat Britain on Friday. She also hit a big 3-pointer against Australia and two clinching free throws in the team's four-point win over Canada.
Now she has the French in a great spot heading to the elimination rounds.
"She's having a good tournament. This is about as good as I've seen her play," Russia guard Becky Hammon said. "She's playing with a lot of confidence — hit those two amazing 3's the other day. She's feeling good about herself. She's a very smart point guard who gets people in the right spots."
But France did not need any late-game heroics from Dumerc against Russia.
France led Russia by four early in the third quarter then lefty point guard sparked a 17-3 run that made it 44-26 with 4:07 left. She had seven points and two assists during the burst.
Russia (3-2) scored the next six points, but France closed the third period with a 11-2 run to seal the victory.
"We were more defensive and aggressive in that quarter," said France forward Endene Miyem through a translator. "That put the other team in difficulties and we took the advantage."
Evgeniya Belyakova scored 14 points to lead Russia, which already had advanced to the quarterfinals.
"It was a terrible game from our side," Russia coach Boris Sokolovskiy said. "The French team showed much stronger will to win today. Our girls woke up only before the ending of the fourth quarter."
Russia won its first three games in the pool before falling to Australia and France. The Russians are sitting third in their pool and would avoid the U.S. until the gold medal game — if they can get that far.
"We're in third right now and we like that situation," Hammon said. "There are obviously a lot of really good teams left, but you want to meet the U.S. as late down the road as possible, so that's pretty good."
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