The shot of the Olympic basketball tournament thus far — regardless of gender — was hit by Australia forward Belinda Snell on Monday morning, and it gave her heavily favored national team a breath of new life in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter of its matchup with France.
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With 3.3 seconds left and France leading 64-62, France center Isabelle Yacoubou stepped to the foul line for two free-throws with a chance to seal the game. (A game, it's worth noting, that likely would have been sealed a bit earlier had Emilie Gomis, who scored all of her game-high 22 points after halftime, been able to convert a wide-open layup with about 10 seconds remaining on the clock.) Yacoubou hit the first freebie, but missed the second, and the rebound was corralled by her Australian counterpart, Abby Bishop.
The Opals' center quickly snapped an outlet to Snell, who took a left-hand dribble, gathered and — with French defenders Gomis and Céline Dumerc all over her — threw up a 50-plus-foot prayer. It was answered.
The remarkable heave by the 31-year-old Snell — who has won championships in both the EuroLeague and the WNBA, and played stateside last season with the Seattle Storm — forced a five-minute overtime period. Ultimately, however, the long-range connection offered only a stay of execution for Australia, which had to play the overtime session without stars Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage, both of whom fouled out in the fourth quarter. The short-handed Opals shot just 2 of 9 in the extra frame, and France held on to secure the 74-70 overtime upset — Australia's first loss in Olympic competition to any country other than the United States since 1996.
While France and its fans celebrate what The Associated Press called "one of the biggest victories in the country's women's basketball history," the loss is a surprising stumble for an Australia team that has won silver in each of the last three Summer Games and that observers expect to make a deep run in this tournament, possibly even challenging the perennially dominant United States, winners of the last four Olympic gold medals and the overwhelming favorites to top the podium again in London.
It may, however, be only a stumble; while the loss drops Australia to 1-1 in Group B play following a convincing win over host nation Great Britain in its opener, the top four teams from each group advance to the competition's quarterfinals, and Australia still stands a good chance of steering clear of the bottom two, especially if Brazil (France's first victim of the tournament) drops its Monday afternoon matchup with Russia to fall to 0-2.
France, on the other hand, finds itself atop Group B at 2-0.
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