Both Team USA and the hosting Czech Republic advanced to Sunday's gold-medal game of the 2010 Women's World Championships with semifinal wins Saturday.
One team got there the easy way; the other team took a more difficult path. Czech Republic rode the wave of hometown support, scrapping back and forth with Belarus in an extremely tight game. A Czech ballhandling error, followed by a foul, late in the fourth quarter tied the game at 68 apiece at the final buzzer and send it into extra minutes.
The Czechs outscored Belarus 13-9 in overtime to take the 81-77 win and advance to the gold medal game for the first time in history.
In contrast, Team USA romped to a 106-70 win over a Spanish team that was playing without star center Sancho Lyttle, who was taken to the hospital last night after injuring her back in the third quarter of Spain's overtime win over France. Whether she can play in Sunday's bronze medal match remains a game-time decision.
Team captain Amaya Valdemoro, the hero of the win over France, saw limited minutes in Saturday's semifinal game due to "fatigue." The clear inference from Spanish Coach Jose Hernandez is that once he saw the U.S. get off to such a strong start (29-16 in the first quarter alone), he opted to rest his key players for tomorrow's medal game, a game he felt he had at least some chance of winning.
In Saturday's other action, Australia beat Russia, 78-73, in a heated battle that might just have been one of the best basketball games of the tournament. France defeated Korea, 61-46, in a defensive grinder that was hard for anyone other than the most dedicated of Les Bleues fans to watch.
Finally, Brazil established a ninth-place world ranking with a closer-than-expected, 84-79, win over Japan, who dropped to 10th place. Greece defeated Canada, 71-55, to take an 11th-place world ranking, while Canada finishes in 12th-place, no small achievement, since Canada has even qualified for the World Championships only in recent years.
What all that means is that the Czech Republic will square off against Team USA in the gold-medal game Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. local time in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. Expect a packed house of highly partisan Czech supporters.
The bronze-medal game between Spain and Belarus will tip off at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 5:30 p.m. local. Belarus holds the edge if Lyttle is unable to play, but if she can suit up at anywhere close to her potential, expect a first-class duel between Lyttle and Atlanta Dream understudy, Yelena Leuchanka.
For the die-hard basketball fan who enjoys rising early on Sundays, FIBA will wrap up its classification rounds starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, 12:00 noon local, with Korea taking on Russia for the world's seventh and eighth-place rankings. Prediction: A Russian rout!
That game will be followed at 8:45 a.m. Eastern, 2:45 p.m. local, by Australia and France vying for fifth and sixth place. France is a solid team, and fought the Aussies close in the preliminary rounds, but Friday's loss to the Czechs has put new fire in the Opals' bellies.
We are currently experiencing technical problems with the wireless internet connection in Karlovy Vary that prevents our uploading heavy photo files at this time. (Note that it is currently nearly 1:00 a.m. on Sunday in the Czech Republic, rendering it difficult, to say the least, to obtain the services of an IT technician.)
Please check back later for further details on today's semifinal action, as well as photos from the day's main events. If we are unable to resolve the problem before game-time Sunday, we will make every effort to roll semifinal photos and coverage into our coverage of the bronze and gold-medal games.