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U.S. falls to Russia in World Championship semifinals

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Three weeks after the men settled for
bronze at their world championships, the U.S. women will be
relegated to a similar result at best.

Russia beat the two-time defending champion United States 75-68
in the semifinals of the women's world championships on Thursday
night. Now, the Americans will need to beat host Brazil on Saturday
to match the men.

"It's going to be hard, knowing that we're not going to be
playing for the gold medal," forward Sheryl Swoopes said. "I think
everybody is disappointed, from the coaching staff, the players,
everybody here. But I know that nobody wants to go home without a
medal. Even though that's not going to be gold, not going to be
silver, I don't want to go home empty-handed."

The loss snapped the United States' 26-game winning streak in
this event. Five players -- Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, DeLisha
Milton-Jones, Katie Smith and Swoopes -- were on this team and the
2002 championship team.

"It's very disappointing and I'm glad that we actually have a
day in between to be able to reflect back on what we did wrong,"
Swoopes said.

Russia took advantage of poor shooting and sloppy ball-handling
by the U.S. to take a 58-38 lead after three quarters. The
Americans closed to 73-68 with 45 seconds left, but after two
missed free throws by Oxana Rakhmatulina with 30 seconds to go, the
U.S. took up almost all of the 24-second shot clock and Candace
Parker missed a layup with 12 seconds left.

Ilona Korstin made two free throws with 10 seconds to go and
Russia (5-3) advanced to Saturday's gold medal game against
Australia (8-0), which beat Brazil 88-76 in the other semifinal.

"They came out and shot better than they had all tournament,"
U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "This was the time when you have to
step up and perform and I thought Russia did a great job with that
tonight. Hats off to them. We made valiant runs a couple of times
deep into the game, in the fourth quarter twice, but Russia's lead
was too great for us to come back."

The U.S. finished 27-for-70 from the field (38.5 percent) and
committed 16 turnovers. The Americans entered the semifinals
averaging 86.7 points on 48.5 percent shooting and had an average
margin of victory of 30.3 per game.

With the gold medalists here earning an automatic berth in the
2008 Olympics, the United States' next chance to qualify will be at
the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships, slated to be held in
Valdivia, Chile. Only the gold medalist from that tournament will
qualify for the Olympics. FIBA will then hold a final 2008 Olympic
Qualifying Tournament in the summer of 08, preceding the Beijing
Games.

The United States' last loss in the world championships was to
Brazil, 110-107, in the semifinals in 1994. The U.S. had won 51
straight games in the world championships and Olympics dating to
that loss. The Americans rebounded from that loss and beat
Australia to win the bronze that year.

"I don't even know how I did it then," said Swoopes, who was
on that team. "I know that I had older players who helped me
understand what this is all about, who helped me understand how to
come back after such a huge loss.

The U.S. (7-1) beat Russia 90-80 in the first round. The United
States, which has won seven world championships, entered the
tournament ranked No. 1 by FIBA, while Russia was No. 2.

Diana Taurasi had six points in the United States' 13-2 run to
open the fourth quarter. Russia had the lead back to 73-58 with 2½
minutes to go, but the United States' full-court pressure allowed
it to get back within 73-68 on a 3-pointer by Sue Bird with 45
seconds to go.

Taurasi finished with 21 points, while Tina Thompson had 15 and
Parker 13.

Rakhmatulina had 18 points for Russia, which lost to the U.S. in
the last two world championship gold medal games. Maria Stepanova,
Russia's 6-foot-8 center, added 13 points, 11 rebounds and four
blocked shots.

"We had many shots that hit the rim that we just didn't
finish," Donovan said. "I think that Stepanova did a great job,
she was probably in our minds even when she wasn't close to the
ball. I think it affected our shooting down low. ... It was just
one of those games, it was not our night."

Russia shot 46.5 percent (27-for-58) and was 8-for-14 from
3-point range with Rakhmatulina going 3-for-5.

Penelope Taylor scored 26 points and Belinda Snell added 22 for
Australia, which won the bronze medal in the 2002 world
championships.