Basketball: U.S. heads to women's final against Spain, maybe without Bird

Thu Aug 18, 2016 9:27pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken and Steve Keating

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The United States beat France 86-67 on Thursday to secure their ninth trip to the women's Olympic basketball final, where they will meet medal game debutantes Spain.

In pursuit of a sixth consecutive gold medal, the world number one United States encountered more resistance from feisty fourth-ranked France than they have from other opponents here. They also suffered with the absence of team anchor Sue Bird, benched by a sprained knee.

The Americans' 19-point margin of victory was far below their average of 41.7 in their first six games in Rio, and at halftime they were ahead by a mere four points.

Bird, a veteran guard and captain, helped the team recover for the second half with a calm talk in the locker room.

"You forget how much Sue does for this team," said Diana Taurasi, the top game scorer with 18 points.

"We have so many scorers and she finds a way to get everyone in their spots, to get everyone touches and obviously she sacrifices for that."

The 35-year-old Bird said there is no guarantee she will be able to return for the final Saturday.

"She obviously wants to play, I want her to play. We are a much better team when she is on the floor," said coach Geno Auriemma.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Women's Semifinal France v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 18/8/2016. Head Coach Geno Auriemma (USA) of USA (2nd from R) and his players cheer from the bench during the game. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton