|FIBA World Ranking||No. 2 (tie)|
|How qualified||2011 Eurobasket for Women Champion|
|Key veteran||Power forward Olga Arteshina|
|Rising star||Shooting guard Elena Danilochkina, 2011 Eurobasket Women MVP|
|Olympic medals||Gold - none; Silver - none; Bronze - two (Beijing 2008, Athens 2004). Russia also took two gold (Moscow 1980, Montreal 1976) and one bronze medal (Seoul 1988) when competing in the Olympics as part of the former Soviet Union, and an additional gold medal (Barcelona 1992) when competing as a member of the former Unified Team.|
|Gold - none; Silver - three (2006, 2002, 1998); Bronze - none. Russia took an additional six gold (1983, 1975, 1971, 1967, 1964, 1959) and two silver medals (1986, 1957) when competing at the World Championships as part of the former Soviet Union.|
|Preliminary round group||Group B|
If you include the medals accumulated as the Soviet Union, Russia is the most decorated team in the world apart from the United States -- and is the only other nation to have beaten the Americans in international competition in more than a decade.
But that was then. Now, the Russians are the most mysterious team in London, with some feeling they can challenge the U.S. and others thinking the glory days are gone. But with Brazil losing Iziane Castro Marques, the road seems clear for Russia to finish in the top two in Group B and have an excellent shot to reach the podium. How the Russians will exactly travel that road, though, is where the questions arise.
Traditionally, the Russians have been known for their powerful post play, as well as their troubles at the point, particularly in putting the ball on the floor under pressure. But the Russian Queen -- former post star Elena Baranova, an Olympic gold medalist with the former Unified Team at Barcelona 1992, one of the 16 charter players (and the first European international) for the WNBA -- no longer patrols the paint for the Russian National Team. Baranova played for two defunct WNBA franchises (the Utah Starzz and Miami Sol) as well as the New York Liberty, but her international resume is much more impressive, highlighted by the MVP award at the 1998 World Championships, and she still continues to play in the Russian Superleague. She's now 40, however, and didn't play in the 2008 Olympics.
Also MIA will be Russia's other veteran post standout, 6-5 Maria Stepanova, a three-time European Player of the Year, who averaged 12.3 points, nearly nine rebounds, 1.7 assists and nearly one block per game at 2011's Eurobasket but injured her ACL while playing in this season's Euroleague Final Eight. Stepanova's absence will likely push 31-year-old understudy Irina Osipova (6-5) to the forefront, but Osipova, who averaged 5.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game at Eurobasket 2011, will have some awfully big shoes to fill in standing in for the team's second-leading scorer unless she gets some significant help from relative newcomers Marina Kuzhina (6-5), Natalia Vieru (6-6), Nadezhda Grishaeva (6-5), none of whom has averaged more than seven points per game in competition for the senior National Team. (The 23-year-old Grishaeva shows the most potential, having averaged 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game at the 2009 Under-20 European Championship for Women, but she has yet to suit up in formal competition for the senior National Team and only time will tell whether she can translate her success in the juniors to competition against the world's elite.)
Russian coach Boris Sokolovsky drilled yet another hole in his team's inside game by cutting veteran forward Svetlana Abrosimova (6-2), a University of Connecticut alum and nine-year veteran of the Seattle Storm and a proven scorer who has no fear of contact in the paint.
At the same time, though, Russia has made considerable strides toward shoring up its historically weak point by capitalizing on the talents of 35-year-old South Dakota-born point guard and WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon, whose performance this year for the San Antonio Silver Stars shows little sign of her advancing age. The only downside for Russia in relying on Hammon is her unavailability to train with the Russian Team during the WNBA season.
The other bright note for the Russian backcourt has been the emergence of 26-year-old wing Elena Danilochkina as the team's leading scorer. While no youngster at 26, Danilochkina can still be considered a relative newcomer, having made her debut with the senior National Team at the 2010 Women's World Championships after a long career at the developmental level. In the one year between the Worlds and the 2011 Eurobasket Women, where she earned tournament MVP honors, Danilochkina more than doubled her offensive production to 13.9 points per game on 52-percent shooting from the field and 54.3 percent from beyond the arc. As an added bonus, though no Hammon with an average of only 1.1 assists per game and an upside-down assist-to-turnover ratio, Danilochkina has shown the ability to back up Hammon at the point when needed.
So will a squad heavily tilted toward relative newcomers be able to carry the Russians back to the medal stand in 2012? Thus far, the verdict is mixed, as Russia has split its two prep games -- both against Australia -- with a 60-51 victory in one game and a 74-72 loss in the other. But without Baranova and Stepanova, Russia will have to rely on the perimeter play of Hammon and Danilochkina for offense, and as many coaches, players and fans have learned over the years, those who live by the jump shot often die by it.
- London 2012: Angola -- Just happy to be there
- London 2012: Australia -- Can team training offset the loss of Penny Taylor?
- London 2012: Brazil -- With Castro Marques gone, so are Brazil's medal hopes
- London 2012: Canada -- Needs a little luck to advance
- London 2012: China -- It's been a struggle since Beijing
- London 2012: Croatia -- Here's the upset special
- London 2012: Czech Republic -- Experience plus size could equal a medal
- London 2012: France -- It's now or never for Les Bleus
- London 2012: Great Britain -- Hosts hoping for a win
- 2012 London: Turkey -- Plenty of size, but shooters are the key
- London 2012: The United States -- Only gold will satisfy