|27 March 2014|
|Johannah Leedham: "I will be heading to the Final Eight coming off my two-month absence, but I am not too worried about it as I am surrounded by great team-mates"|
It's more than two months since Johannah Leedham stepped out in EuroLeague Women with Tango Bourges, but the British star is eyeing up a return at the Final Eight in Ekaterinburg.
The versatile guard was arguably the team's best performer for the first half of the campaign having foraged an impressive 12.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, only for injury to scythe her down when she was playing some of the best basketball of her career.
"I will be heading to the Final Eight coming off my two-month absence, but I am not too worried about it as I am surrounded by great players and team-mates," confirmed Leedham.
"I have a coach who puts no pressure on me, since Coach [Valerie] Garnier just expects me to play hard at both ends of the court and to always give what I can.
"And, because that is all about effort and toughness, it certainly won't be an issue for me.
"I am not expecting myself to be in the same form as I was before the injury, but I do expect to be able to give my team-mates 100% hustle, hard work and heart whenever I get to be out there."
It was those attributes which served the French champions so very well last season at the Final Eight when they managed to squeeze onto the podium.
Ironically of course, Leedham had arrived at the club mid-season because of an injury to Frida Eldebrink and then shone brightly and showed her character in Ekaterinburg after the injury crisis had significantly deepened.
"Finishing third last year for us was huge," recalled Leedham.
"We had so many struggles during the season, with players coming in and out on the roster due to injuries, myself being one of them, so it seemed somewhat amazing to finish how we did, because we were so short-handed.
"Being at the Final Eight last year showed that no matter who we had on the floor, as long as we had our collective spirit and the will to have all five people playing defence, we were capable of taking on the best teams.
"It was a great lesson and experience for us," added the 26-year-old.
Repeating or even bettering their 2013 finish will be tough, although the club has given everyone a boost by extending the contract of head coach Valerie Garnier, which underlines the level of faith they have in the Les Bleues play-caller to deliver success.
Leedham however is acutely aware that it rarely gets more intense or challenging at club level than playing at the Final Eight.
She said, "At this stage, all groups and games are difficult. We face the reigning champions again in UMMC, who are tough and stacked with great players and so it is always a difficult match-up.
"Then we have Nadezhda Orenburg and ZVVZ USK Prague, who both seem to be in great form and playing really well - they also have top players.
"There are no guarantees and we just have to get our defence going and play collectively as we always do. We can then hopefully pull off three wins."
|Floor general Celine Dumerc is one of the most experienced players on the Bourges roster|
Schedule: ZVVZ USK Prague (07/04), UMMC Ekaterinburg (08/04), Nadezhda Orenburg (09/04)
Headline writer: A player for the big occasions, former FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year, Celine Dumerc is always someone who can swing the games in favour of her team. She's the tick-tock of the Bourges clock, both defensively and offensively. Very much still the driving force and a world-class player, Dumerc is still playing with a big smile on her face and having fun. She will revel in this test, because this kind of stage is made for players of her quality.
‘X-Factor': We know that Bourges will always be a tough nut to crack for any opponent, because they have incredible defensive capabilities running right through the entire roster. They will be happy to grind out wins in low scoring games when needed, although this comes with its own risks. However, to make the next step and possibly reach a final, they will need to find their shooting touch and deliver offensively. Much could come down to players like Johannah Leedham stepping into games and making some shots. They do of course have the solid platform of their reliable frontcourt including the in-form Endene Miyem.
Unsung hero: Even though Paoline Salagnac hasn't quite found her rhythm from the three-point line as she might have liked, she has done a great job rebounding and also defensively. Since Leedham was injured, she has played at least 24 minutes in six successive games.
Number crunching: Tango Bourges give up more turnovers per game than any other team at the event with 16.5 per game. At 62.4%, Australian center, Marianna Tolo has the second best accuracy rate under the basket.
In just eight words: Stifling defence guaranteed. Can they find the firepower?