Preview: USA and France to Battle For Spot in Gold-Medal Game

When the Americans take on France in the Olympic semifinals on Thursday at 3 p.m. PT, they could be without one of their veteran leaders.

Sue Bird, who has started every game for the United States in the last three Olympics, didn’t practice on Wednesday after suffering a knee capsule sprain in the quarterfinal. The Storm guard, listed as day-to-day after an MRI, had been averaging a team-high six assists and the second-most minutes on the team (21.8 per game) before Tuesday’s win over Japan.

Even without Bird for the second half on Tuesday, the USA showed it is capable of dominating a formidable opponent. The Americans set a pair of Olympic records in a 110-64 win, draining 11 three-pointers and having seven players reach double figures. They remain on pace to break the 1996 team’s record of 102.4 points per game.

Diana Taurasi has been the USA’s most lethal scorer thus far, especially from beyond the arc. She’s knocked down 25 three-pointers in six games, hitting five or more shots from deep in three different games. Taurasi, who entered the tournament already holding the record for most three-pointers in an Olympic career, is now just one away from tying the single-Olympics record. Her hot shooting from deep has resulted in a team-high 15 points per game.

France, which lost to the USA in the gold-medal game in 2012, got to this point by going 3-2 in Group A and beating Canada 68-63 in the quarterfinals. The Americans defeated France handily in an exhibition last month, but it was by a smaller margin that any of their Olympic games (84-62). It was a tight game in the first half before the USA pulled away after the break, much like the quarterfinal win over Japan.

In addition to Bird’s injury, France will also be short-handed in the backcourt on Thursday.

Celine Dumerc, the leading scorer for France in 2012, hurt her ankle during a practice in Rio de Janeiro just days before the tournament. The former Atlanta guard was ruled out for the Olympics. France still has three members of the 2012 team that won silver, plus two players with WNBA experience: former Stars forward Valeriane Ayayi, and former Sun and Sparks center Sandrine Gruda.

Storm rookie Breanna Stewart has played at least 10 minutes in every game for the USA, and now she’ll have a chance to help her nation reach the gold-medal game. The winner of Thursday’s contest faces either Serbia or Spain for all the marbles on Saturday.