France held the United States to just three points in the first seven minutes but the floodgates eventually opened on Saturday as Geno Auriemma’s team won a battle of unbeatens to clinch first place in Group B at the FIBA World Championship for Women.
In the do-or-die clash to determine third place, Greece grinded out an 83-68 victory over Senegal.
The Americans, coming off a 56-point trouncing of the Senegalese, won 81-60 but only after surviving a sluggish start against the French.
Both teams struggled to score with the Americans turning the ball over seven times in the opening frame and France failing to take advantage by making just three of 15 shots from the floor.
Trailing 10-7 after Jennifer Digbeu’s jumper for France, the USA closed the quarter with two Candice Dupree free-throws, a short jumper from Tina Charles and a Diana Taurasi jump shot to lead by three.
The USA only led 36-29 at half-time.
Geno Auriemma’s side didn’t take control until the third quarter when he inserted Lindsay Whalen, Dupree, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Tina Charles into the game.
They helped extend the lead to 61-48 and the USA pulled away in the fourth.
It was put to Auriemma that his players looked tired against France.
“I think every team here is tired, when you’re playing your third game,” he said.
“That’s part of the World Championship.
“You have to play tired, you have to mentally get through this.
“We have six players that haven’t played in the World Championship, but we didn’t come here to be tired.
“I thought in the third quarter, that second group gave us a lot of energy.”
Taurasi had a team-high 15 points in the first half. After the game she visited with FIBATV.com.
Greece, who were coming off a 69-55 defeat to France, encountered a huge Senegalese team that was looking to salvage its World Championship.
The Greeks got another great game from Evina Maltsi, who scored 31 points after burying seven of 11 shots from behind the arc.
“First of all, I must say it was a very, very difficult game for both teams after two defeats, to concentrate,” Greece coach Kostas Missas said.
“I think my team was more experienced than the Senegal team.
“I had two or three players with more experience in leagues and you can feel it.”
Missas was asked if it has been difficult to get his players fired up for the game after their disappointing result against the French.
A lot of people believed the Greeks would win that game after falling to France 51-49 in the Quarter-Finals of last year’s EuroBasket Women.
“I’m glad that now we say it’s disappointment because we lost that game to France,” Missas said. “It shows how far we have come because four years ago, France would have beat Greece by 40 or 50.
“Don’t forget we are now in the 12 best teams in the world.
“For the Greek national team, we’ve worked hard. That was the main target. We are going to cool off before focusing on the next games.”
Astou Traore had 14 points and Aya Traore 13 for Senegal.
USA, France and Greece will compete in Group E of the Eighth-Final Round