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Brittney Griner visited in Russian prison by U.S. Embassy officials

US' Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball player Brittney Griner.
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WASHINGTON — Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow visited jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday, just weeks after a Russian court rejected her appeal of her nine-year sentence for drug possession.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet that the American representatives “saw firsthand her tenacity and perseverance despite her present circumstances.”

Price said the Biden administration is continuing to press for the immediate release of Griner and Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison in Russia on espionage-related charges that he and his family say are bogus, and “fair treatment for every detained American.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Griner “is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances” and that the administration was working “to resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detentions” of Griner and Whelan.”

Griner was was convicted in August after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Her arrest in February came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At that time, Griner was returning to play for a Russian team during the WNBA’s offseason.

She admitted at her trial to having the canisters in her luggage but testified she packed them inadvertently in her haste to make her flight and had no criminal intent. Her lawyers have called the punishment excessive.

The United States regards Griner and Whelan as wrongful detainees and has been trying to negotiate with Russia for their release. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said over the summer that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to try to get both home.

People familiar with the offer have said the U.S. wanted to swap Whelan and Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

There have been no outward signs of progress since then in the negotiations.

Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with the president to New Mexico that “despite a lack of good faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russia through all available channels. This continues to be a top priority.”

Rugby World Cup: France, host New Zealand secure spots in semifinals

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Winger Joanna Grisez scored a try in the first two minutes and added two more late for a hat trick which lifted France to a 39-3 win over Italy Saturday in the first quarterfinal at the Women’s Rugby World Cup at Whangarei, New Zealand.

The final score hid the fact that France went 60 minutes without a try between Grisez’s first and a penalty try which finally relieved some of the pressure Italy had exerted and allowed France to finally stretch its legs in the last quarter.

After the penalty try came an avalanche of four tries in the last quarter which made France’s win one of its most emphatic in its recent matches against its European neighbor.

France had a large surplus of possession for most of the match and an advantage of territory but for a long period through the middle of the match it seemed incapable of finding a way to score against stoic Italian defense.

RUGBY WORLD CUP: How to watch, TV and streaming schedule, highlights and results

The turning point in the match came with the penalty try when Italy infringed at a scrum near its line and Silvia Turani, singled out as the offender, was sent to the sin-bin.

France cashed in immediately on its numerical advantage with a try to Laure Touye, then Grisez touched down in the 68th and 70th minutes to complete a rare World Cup triple and make France’s win conclusive and impressive.

France should have scored in the 45th minute when they had a three-player overlap but cut back inside. It also should have scored two minutes later but Charlotte Escudero dropped the ball over the line. France seemed fated to be denied by the Italy defense and relieved on penalties to extend their lead after Grisez’s early try.

But the floodgates opened with the penalty try and France will be formidable in the semifinals, especially on the basis of its defensive performance. It has conceded just 21 points in four games at the tournament so far.

“We are so happy to play a semifinal next week,” France captain Gabrielle Vernier said. “I’m so proud of the girls. It’s been a tough few weeks and today we proved when are one of the best teams. It’s a dream come true and I hope for the best for the team.”

Italy was playing in its first World Cup quarterfinal and may use its experience in New Zealand as a springboard to better things.

“We are happy to be here and to get to the quarterfinal but we need to start from this and improve in the next year and maybe in the next World Cup and get to the semifinal,” captain Elisa Giordano said.

New Zealand tops Wales, 55-3

New Zealand steamrolled its way into the semifinals with a 55-3 win over Wales.

Winger Portia Woodman scored a try in each half to become the leading try-scorer from any nation in women’s World Cups and hooker Luka Connor produced a second half double as New Zealand won by nine tries to nil.

New Zealand beat Wales 57-0 in its final group match a week ago and Saturday’s win had echoes of that. But it also produced a much stronger performance at set pieces, especially at scrums, which will be vital as it goes on to the final four.

“It’s an extreme privilege (to make the semifinals),” New Zealand captain Kennedy Simon said. “It’s a huge legacy which we are trying to uphold and enhance so to get through to the next phase of the campaign is pretty awesome.”

New Zealand has won the World Cup on five occasions.

Wales had few scoring chances Saturday and those it had were quickly shut down by the New Zealand defense. New Zealand was physical in the tackle and its work at the breakdowns was outstanding. Its counter-rucking was one of the features of the match and prevented Wales producing any continuity.

New Zealand had plenty. Woodman scored its first try in the 11th minute and it had three more by halftime when it led 26-3. Head coach Wayne Smith had a difficult task in deciding on his starting 15 for the first knockout round and he would have been happy with the combination his preferred lineup showed.

The New Zealand support play was almost instinctive, allowing it to build a layered attack.

Wales lacked New Zealand’s experience at the top level and was pleased to make the last eight of a World Cup.

“We’ve just become professional so this is just the start and we’re really excited for the future,” Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap said.

On Sunday, England is scheduled to play Australia, and Canada will take on the United States.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. Eagles face undeniable challenges in efforts to play rugby full time

Sedona Prince ‘heartbroken’ as Oregon basketball career ends with elbow injury

Sedona Prince # 32 of the Oregon Ducks of the Oregon Ducks is introduced as part of the starting lineup.
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Sedona Prince’s career at Oregon has ended with a torn elbow ligament that will require surgery.

Prince, a 6-foot-7 center, has opted to forgo her final year of eligibility and pursue a professional career following surgery next month, the Ducks announced Friday.

“I’m heartbroken,” Prince said in a statement. “I truly felt that this was the year I could showcase my work ethic and skills on the court, but also my self-growth and leadership ability. I tried to push through the injury and be there for my team, but after extensive evaluation from the best doctors in the world and looking deep inside myself at my passions and goals, I know that I have to take care my elbow now in order to ensure long-term health and a sustained professional career.”

Prince averaged 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season. She drew attention when she posted about the disparities between the women’s and men’s weight rooms at the 2021 NCAA Tournament on social media.

“She has done so many wonderful things and has been an incredible representative of our program and the university. Her impact on collegiate athletics, especially in the area of gender equity, has been immense and will be felt for generations to come,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said.

In her career for the No. 20 Ducks, Prince averaged 9.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game.

She will be honored before Oregon’s exhibition game against Carroll College at Matthew Knight Arena on Friday night.

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