BEIJING (Olympics) – Becky Hammon’s investment in Russian basketball, and the Russians’ investment in Becky Hammon paid a dividend on Saturday when the American guard scored a team-high 22 points to lead the European champions to a 94-81 win over China in the bronze medal game.
Hammon, a CSKA Moscow playmaker who became a Russian citizen earlier this year and was then invited into the national team, poured in 11 in the first half as Russia built a 52-39 lead by the break.
Igor Grudin’s team went in front by as many as 19 in the third quarter, and though the Chinese managed to cut the deficit to 11 in the third and fourth quarters, they got no closer.
Hammon, the most talked about Russian in the build-up to the Olympics, will return home on Sunday – to Texas – where she will resume her WNBA campaign with San Antonio.
"I think it's as it should be,” Hammon said to FIBA.com. “The United States and Australia were the best teams and they are playing for gold.
“We did our best for our team. We played our best basketball at the end when it counted.
“I'm proud of the progress we have made, for me to have been a positive leader for them and encourage them and help them believe in ourselves.
“I think if you watched us a couple of weeks ago we didn't have enough belief in ourselves.”
The defeat brings an end to Tom Maher’s time in charge of China.
The Australian took over after the 2004 Olympics, where he coached New Zealand to a preliminary round win over the Chinese that put the Tall Ferns and not the Asian giants into the quarter-finals.
"From next week, I will be unemployed and it's going to be hard to get back to the real world,” Maher said to FIBA.com.
“It has been a wonderful experience to coach China.
“I've enjoyed all of it. Everything is done for you and we have had the best training facilities in the world.”
Russia, who lost to the three-time defending Olympic champions USA in their semi-final, shot nine of 17 from long range with Hammon four of six (66.7%).
China had 10 first-half turnovers when the Russians took command.
Tatiana Shchegoleva, perhaps Russia’s best player at the Olympics, made both of her shots from behind the arc and finished with 15 points while center Maria Stepanova poured in 15 and grabbed nine rebounds.
Chen Nan finished with a game-high 26 points but had just three boards.
Bian Lan scored 17 and Miao Lijie 16.
"We didn't lose this game in things we should have handled,” Maher said.
“That's as good as we are. In the first half, turnovers really hurt us.
“We lost to what we are weak at, and we stayed close to what we are good at.”