HAINING (FIBA Diamond Ball for Women) – Russia put disappointing setbacks to Latvia and the United States behind them and beat Mali 79-52 to finally taste victory at the FIBA Diamond Ball for Women.
The European champions struggled early on against the Africans and only led 35-26 at the break but then grabbed a stranglehold on the game in the opening five minutes of the third quarter, outscoring Mali 12-3 to take a 47-29 lead.
They pulled away for a decisive win with Tatiana Shchegoleva and Ilona Korstin each pouring in 12 points and Maria Stepanova 11.
Svetlana Abrosimova, who weighed in with eight points for the Russians, admitted she and her teammates are not yet in their rhythm.
“Unfortunately, it’s true,” she said to FIBA.com.
“We always start slow and don’t play well as a team. The last three days have been a nightmare for us. We need to fix a lot of things.
“Individually, we have good players but we’ve just not being playing well as a team.”
The tournament has been crucial for Russia, she admitted.
“I’m so happy we have this tournament because otherwise we’d have this (lack of form) at the start of the Olympics,” Abrosimova said.
Becky Hammon, a CSKA Moscow and WNBA star who has grabbed a lot of headlines because of her decision to accept Russian citizenship and play for the national team, had six points and three assists.
“I feel bad for her,” said Abrosimova, when asked what it was like having Hammon in the team.
“They just bother her a lot about the whole issue. We’re trying to help her out. She’s a great person and player.”
Russia beat the United States in the semi-finals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship and supporters back home are expecting them to make it that far in Beijing.
“They told us in Russia we have to be in the finals,” she said, “so that’s a lot of pressure.
“I don’t want to think too far ahead, though. We need to get better and right now, it’s game to game.”