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Australia-Russia meet for top spot in women's pool

Aug. 15, 2008, 11:37 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Australia and Russia both want a shot at the U.S. in women's basketball, just not before the gold medal game - which raises the already-high stakes in their showdown Sunday.

Both teams are undefeated through their first four games and the winner Sunday will earn the top seed in the pool, avoiding a potential matchup with the Americans until the championship game.

"You don't want to play the U.S. till the gold medal game," said Australia guard Kristi Harrower after a 96-73 victory over Latvia on Friday. "We want to win our pool."

Russia guard Becky Hammon agreed, adding, "They are the best team in the world."

Australia (4-0) has looked like a much stronger team through the first four games. They are winning by an average of 21 points and the only team to give them trouble so far has been Latvia.

Conversely, Russia (4-0) has struggled through the pool. The Russians couldn't pull away from South Korea, or Latvia until the final minutes. On Friday, Russia found itself trailing by two in the fourth quarter to Brazil before rallying for a 74-64 victory. Tatiana Shchegoleva scored 14 points to lead Russia, which used a 17-6 run to open the fourth to put the game away.

While the bonus of not having to play the U.S. in the semifinals is in some of the player's minds, Australia coach Jan Sterling was more interested in who the quarterfinal matchup would be against.

"At some point you're going to have to play the U.S.," Sterling said. "For now we need to see who we'll play in the quarterfinals and not worry about after that. Everyone has a hiccup at some point during the tournament, we just hope our's isn't in the playoffs."

The last time Australia and Russia met the 2006 world championship title was at stake in Brazil. The Opals won 91-74.

"We know how good they are and what we have to do to beat them," said Australia co-captain Penny Taylor, who was MVP in 2006. "We need to be focused to play Russia. It's huge to win the pool and finish first."

Russian coach Igor Grudin feels that his team's upset win against the United States in the semifinals of the worlds played a huge part in their loss to Australia.

"We lost to Australia because we had just beaten the U.S.A. We were too excited to have that game with Australia," he said.

This Russian team is similar to the one that lost to Australia with many of the same players still on the roster. The one notable addition is Hammon.

"We haven't really thought about that loss," said Russia forward Ilona Korstin, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Brazil. "We don't have any pressure on us as everyone expects U.S. and Australia to play in the finals."

Lauren Jackson had 16 points in the championship game against Russia. She finally got going in the Olympics, scoring 30 points in Australia's 96-73 win over Latvia on Friday. The reigning WNBA MVP hit five 3-pointers. She had been slowed in the Opals' first three game by foul trouble. On Friday, she took over with Australia trailing Latvia by six in the first half.

"I feel like I'm getting better, but there is still work to be done," Jackson said.