U.S., Russia ready to battle Friday in semifinal test
The teams last met in the 2002 world championships finals.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Nothing like two teams with a history to spice up an Olympic basketball game.
And when it's the United States against Russia, there's history aplenty. World championships, previous Olympic matchups -- it's all there.
The Friday pairing in the women's semifinals was finalized when the two squads cruised to decisive victories to open the medal round. Both are loaded with experience and talent, and both are coming in on a roll.
"We will see who will be stronger," Russia's Ilona Korstin said.
Americans rout Greece
Both looked strong in their quarterfinal games. The United States hushed a boisterous hometown crowd by taking control early in a 102-72 victory Wednesday over Greece. Russia played its best defensive game of the tournament in a 70-49 win over the Czech Republic, holding its opponent to 29 percent shooting.
Now comes a rematch of the world championships final in 2002, a game the United States won 79-74 after Russia pulled to within a point with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
"I remember only one moment, when we could tie the score but we didn't," said Russia's Elena Baranova, who plays for the WNBA's New York Liberty. "I think if we did [tie], the game would be different."
The United States has motivation too, aside from needing to win to stay on track for a third straight gold medal. The Russian team's predecessor, the Unified Team, beat the United States 79-73 in the 1992 semifinals in Barcelona -- the last time a U.S. team lost in the Olympics.
"We're here for the gold," Tamika Catchings said. "But lose one and there's no way to get that gold."
Australia and Brazil will meet in the other semifinal. Australia extended its winning streak over New Zealand to 23 with a 94-55 victory in their regional rivalry, while Brazil advanced with a 67-63 win over Spain, whose only previous loss was to the United States.
The United States continued its relentless march with a dominating performance against a Greek team that played with a lot of heart and got an outstanding performance from Anastasia Kostaki (26 points, eight assists).
But Kostaki couldn't do it alone, and even the backing of an energetic, flag-waving crowd wasn't enough against this deep, talented U.S. team.
Johnson leads way
Shannon Johnson, who goes by the nickname Pee Wee, made 8-of-11 shots, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, and scored 21 points -- nine more than her total from the previous five games.
Tina Thompson scored 11 first-quarter points to spark a fast start that helped tame the crowd, and finished with 20.
Yolanda Griffith had her usual solid game off the bench with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Diana Taurasi added 13, while Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes scored 12 each.
The medal round moved to the spacious 19,250-seat Olympic Indoor Hall after a preliminary round at a smaller arena in the Helliniko complex on the coast. The United States adapted to the new surroundings quite nicely, shooting 50 percent and making 10 3-pointers, an Olympic record for a U.S. team.
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