Aussie women beat Russia 83-74, win bronze medal
LONDON -- All things considered, Lauren Jackson figured finishing a winner was better than finishing a loser -- even if all she won was a consolation prize.
The 6-foot-5 Jackson made sure of that much Saturday, scoring 21 of her 25 points to help Australia beat Russia 83-74 and win the women's Olympic basketball bronze medal.
After losing three straight Olympic finals to the U.S., Jackson will take it.
"Happy we won the way we did," she said. "Better than losing and getting silver. It feels better right now."
Jackson didn't want to leave the London Games with nothing to show for her efforts. But after losing to the Americans in the semifinals, Jackson said the Australians "knew we had to win this game to get a medal. It's a huge motivation."
"I didn't want to walk away empty-handed. That would have been a tragedy."
It is the fifth straight Olympics that Australia has won a medal. The Australians had won the past three silver medals since winning the bronze in 1996.
But the Russians didn't make it easy for them.
Russia cut a 38-30 halftime lead to three early in the third quarter before Australia scored 10 straight to take command. Suzy Batkovic had a three-point play on a tip-in of a missed shot and Jackson had a putback that made it 48-35 with 5:21 left in the quarter.
Australia extended its lead to 15 points on Jackson's basket with 7:21 left in the game before Russia rallied behind Becky Hammon. The Russians pulled within five, 76-71 with 1:21 left, but that's as close as they would get.
Hammon scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half to lead Russia, which finished without a medal for the first time in three Olympics.
The Australians had the two most memorable moments in the women's basketball tournament. Belinda Snell hit a 50-foot heave to send a preliminary round game against France into overtime and Liz Cambage had a dunk against Russia, which might have been the first in Olympic history.
Now they have the bronze medal.
They would have liked gold but say they feel good about the bronze.
"Our goal was to get to the gold-medal game, but it didn't happen," said Australian point guard Kristi Harrower, who finished with 21 points and four assists. "We got the bronze. It's nice to say I am a four-time Olympian with four medals."
The 37-year Harrower was playing in her final Olympics. As she dribbled out the final seconds on the clock, her teammates gathered around her, hugging and congratulating her. A few minutes later, they lifted Harrower up on their shoulders so she could be saluted by the fans.
"It's something we do in Australia, especially football players when they play their 250th game and are retiring," Harrower said. "They put them on their shoulders. It's a tradition in Australian football at home."
Australia came into the London Games off a disappointing fifth place finish at the 2010 world championship. The Australians played without star guard Penny Taylor, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the EuroLeague finals in April. They lost a pool game to France -- the first time they were beaten by a team other than the U.S. in the Olympics since 1996.
They did not want to leave London empty-handed.
The Australians challenged the U.S. in the semifinals, giving the Americans their first halftime deficit in Olympic play in 12 years. They just ran out of gas in the second half and fell by 13, leaving them playing for the bronze.
Trailing 20-19 early in the second quarter, Australia took control behind Harrower and Batkovic. The two sparked a 19-8 run to take control. Batkovic got the burst started with a jumper and had eight points during the spurt.
Hammon scored her first basket of the game just before the halftime buzzer to get Russia within eight at the half.
Hammon, 35, is playing in her second Olympics for Russia. She became a Russian naturalized citizen before the Beijing Games. Because she hadn't played for the United States in any major FIBA-sanctioned international events, she is allowed to compete for Russia in the Olympics.
The 5-foot-6 South Dakota native helped Russia win the bronze medal at the Beijing Games. This is the third straight Olympics that Russia has reached the semifinals, but the team had to settle for the bronze in Athens -- falling to the U.S. in 2004 and 2008.
Even though she didn't win a medal this Olympics, she had a less stressful experience. Her patriotism was questioned in 2008 when she played with Russia, which won the bronze medal.
"I would have liked to won, but it was enjoyable. I love the girls and would have liked to bring home a medal for them," Hammon said.
Hammon said she thinks this is the last time she'll be playing for Russia in the Olympics. She'll be 39 in 2016.
"I think this is it, we'll see," Hammon said. "I might be using a walker by then."
Russia had won the bronze medal in the past two Olympics and hasn't won a gold medal since 1992 when the country was known as the Unified Team.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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