Serbia defeated France, 70-63, to take the bronze medal in women's basketball at the 2016 Olympics. The Serbians rode a big third quarter to the win Saturday, which concludes an incredible medal run for a team that was considered a long shot entering Rio.
This is the first Olympic medal in women's basketball for Serbia as an independent country, and it comes in the country's first appearance. After a miraculous run to the bronze medal game, the team finished it off with one last win.
Serbia rode a big third quarter to a double-digit lead, which it held onto most of the final 10 minutes even as France made its fourth-quarter push by turning to a smaller, shooting-oriented lineup. The final margin of seven points was the closest it got, as France hit a last-second three to make things closer than they were.
In the first half, Serbia was all about Milica Dabovic, Ana Dabovic and Jelena Milovanovic. Those three combined for 23 of Serbia's 30 field goal attempts and 25 of its 27 points. While that's not unusual — those are the team's three leading scorers in Rio — it was an unbalanced effort.
Luckily the rest of Serbia got going in the second half, including a 28-point third quarter that helped the team pull away. In a game where neither team was scoring much, that 10-minute outburst made the difference as France was unable to rally.
Danielle Page, who entered averaging nearly 11 points per game, went 0-of-2 with zero points in 18 first-half minutes, then scored 10 points in a big second half. The Dabovic sisters and Milovanovic finished the game with more than half (38) of the team's points.
For France, they just never found any shooting rhythm. The team dominated on the boards, 43-31, thanks to a solid effort from Isabelle Yacoubou, but struggled offensively. Serbia held France to just 39 percent shooting with 20 turnovers.
Serbia's run to the bronze medal game was surprising. The team didn't play well in the group stage, where it went 2-3 with its only wins against lowly China and Senegal. That left the team with a quarterfinal matchup against heavily favored Australia, which won Group A with a perfect 5-0 record behind superstar forward Liz Cambage.
The result was a monster upset as Serbia knocked out Australia with a 73-71 win. Cambage had a monster game with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting, but Serbia made sure not to let anyone else get going. The strategy worked as Australia committed 26 turnovers and largely struggled whenever Cambage didn't have the ball.
And after losing to Spain in the semifinals, Serbia bounced back with the upset of France to take bronze. It was a special sight to see the players hugging together at center court — and throwing their coach into the air — afterwards for a team that didn't have high expectations entering Rio. They earned it, too, by beating some of the best teams in the world.
2 other things we learned
France's run ends, but future still bright
It's been an incredible few years for France, so coming away from Rio without a medal is definitely disappointing. The French won silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 and 2015 European Championships, but fell short of earning back-to-back Olympic medals.
Even so, France has established itself as one of the better teams in women's international basketball and the future is bright. Young guards Marine Johannes and Olivia Epoupa struggled against Serbia, combining to shoot just 2-of-16, but they're skilled players who should be part of the next French team for the 2020 Olympics. With captain and star player Isabelle Yacoubou at 30 years old, there's a chance she'll be good to go four years from now, too.
France may have fallen short in its quest for consecutive medals, but expect it to be in the mix yet again in 2020.
Nobody else has the Americans' firepower
It's noticeable from the opening tip off of any game where the U.S. isn't playing. France and Serbia are two of the best teams in the world, but the 2016 Olympics have firmly established that no other country has the kind of offensive ability boasted by the Americans, even the teams still playing for medals.
It's plain to see in the scoring totals. Team USA enters its gold medal game with an average of 102.3 points per game on 58 percent shooting. No other team tops 80 points per game or shoots better than 47 percent. Serbia, the bronze medal winner, averaged just 72.8 points over eight games.
None of this is TOO surprising given that the U.S. was heavily favored entering Rio, but the bronze medal game did nothing to dispel the notion that the Americans are operating on another level offensively.