By CRAIG DANIELS -- Toronto Sun
SYDNEY -- One barely made it. The other made it with emphasis.
And if you were asked to guess beforehand which was which, you likely would have been very wrong.
The U.S. men's basketball team, laden with NBA stars, will play for Olympic gold today, but only after surviving an 85-83 fright against Lithuania early yesterday morning.
Its opponent, to the surprise of many, will be France, which crushed host Australia 76-52.
"We were fighting for our lives," U.S. guard Ray Allen of the Milwaukee Bucks said in the wake of the narrow win over Lithuania.
"It would not have been very fun to play for the bronze medal.
"But these teams are good and we know that (today) we could be in the same situation if we don't come out and just play the game of basketball."
Canada, which was beaten by five by France in the quarter-final, will find a measure of redemption knowing it was defeated by a team that has showed in recent games it is among the best in the world.
France, which qualified for the Olympics by finishing fourth at the 1999 European championship, was not highly regarded prior to the tournament. It had not competed at an Olympics since 1984, when it finished eighth.
France played the U.S. tough during preliminary-round play, losing by just 12, 106-94.
In 13 previous appearances in the Olympics, the American men have collected 11 gold medals, one silver (in 1972) and one bronze (in 1988).
Australia will play Lithuania for the bronze medal, also today.