- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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So the final game of the 2012 Olympic women's basketball tournament will pit two teams that are both undefeated (7-0) in the London Games. And that's pretty much where the similarities between the United States and France end.
The Americans have participated in all but one of the 10 Olympic tournaments for women's hoops. The absence was in 1980, when the United States boycotted the Moscow Games. Team USA is going for its fifth consecutive gold medal and seventh overall. The Americans also have a silver and a bronze (which the program metaphorically kind of keeps hidden away in the sock drawer). U.S. women's hoops players have never left an Olympic Games empty-handed.
In contrast, the French are making just their second appearance in the Olympics, and for the first time will win a medal. They'll take home nothing less than silver, so these Olympics are already a triumph for the French. This has to be considered a huge step forward for the French national program.
What would it take for France to pull the biggest upset ever in an Olympic women's hoops final? It's rather hard to conceive of it happening. The Australians, who have a lot of size and a great deal of Olympic experience, stayed with Team USA for most of three quarters in their semifinal meeting Thursday but still fell, 86-73.
It took a while for Team USA to get the Aussies in a hammerlock, as it trailed at halftime for the first time in an Olympic contest since the 2000 Sydney Games. But once the Americans took control of the game, they motored right through the finish line.
In other words, France is in unchartered waters that also happen to be full of sharks. There are some things the French have going for them, though. For one, they've shown tremendous chemistry and unity in these Olympics. Their balance offensively was too much for Russia to handle Thursday, as six French players scored in double figures in an 81-64 victory.
They have some very smart guard play, led by Celine Dumerc, the captain and emotional leader. They've also had some solid contributors off the bench in Isabelle Yacoubou and Edwige Lawson-Wade.
To have any chance of hanging with the Americans, though, the French must be able to execute their offense for the duration of the game against a squad that hasn't let any foe do that in these Olympics.
Consider this: If you were giving out accolades for various players' impact against Australia, it might have taken a while to get to Tamika Catchings. Just because so much of what she does isn't necessarily measured by statistics. Catchings can be such a nuisance defensively that after a while, whomever she's guarding often just gets too worn down to even want the ball. Yet eventually, you would get to praising Catchings, who finished with seven points, eight rebounds and two steals. That's part of the relentless depth the French have to contend with.
The Americans weren't perfect by any stretch against Australia -- they allowed too many good looks inside in the first half and left too many potential points at the free throw line throughout the game -- yet they still won by double digits. France must play the best game this squad ever has to make any run for the gold.