|18 March 2014|
Six teams will take their play-off battles right down to the wire in the pursuit of the last three coveted spots for the EuroLeague Women Final Eight in Ekaterinburg next month.
|Laura Nicholls was vital to Rivas' success in game two|
ZVVZ USK Prague (3) vs Rivas Ecopolis (14)
Rather than a sense of euphoria after their tense 62-57 win in game two against the Czech champions, it was more satisfaction and contentment which descended on the Rivas Ecopolis locker room.
It proved a struggle to dig out the win during a nervous last few minutes as ZVVZ USK Prague threatened a late comeback, but the hosts held firm - helped by a double-double from Spanish national team forward, Laura Nicholls who played for the full forty minutes.
And, she expressed relief that she was able to deliver the kind of performance which was critical in allowing Rivas to dare to dream that little bit longer.
"Of course I felt tired, but I feel more tired when I am on the bench," said the 25-year-old about her role in the second match-up.
"It was a long one, but we all managed to be there for every single minute and I was happy with my output."
Her 22 points and 11 rebounds were certainly critical and there is little doubt that responsibility for springing a surprise in the decider will remain mostly on her shoulders.
It was defensively that head coach, Jose Hernandez was most pleased with, as Rivas locked down the Prague wing scorers.
He said, "After the first game, I said to our players that it's rare to stop [Eva] Viteckova and [Katerina] Elhotova at four combined points and they then combined for only three.
"I think we're doing a great job stopping such talented players."
Of course whether Rivas can stop the duo for a third straight game could yet prove to be a decisive factor.
Meanwhile since the last game, there has been an added twist after Prague string-puller Laia Palau was not only named captain of the Spanish national team, but also witnessed her nation being pitched against Czech Republic at the FIBA World Championship for Women later this year.
|Miljana Bojovic: "Those games are the ones that keep the love and passion for the game alive" |
Tango Bourges (6) vs Good Angels Kosice (11)
Good Angels Kosice finally managed to crack the case against Tango Bourges last time out and their 61-54 win at the Steel Arena has given them a chance of making a return to the Final Eight.
Central to their efforts was point guard Miljana Bojovic, who set the tone from the tip-off and was instrumental in taking her team to an eye-catching success.
"The best part of the last game against Bourges is simply that we won," said Bojovic with a smile.
"We knew what was expected from us and what that game was going to bring.
"It was a very important game for us in so many ways.
"Firstly, it gave us another chance to fight for the Final Eight and it was the last EuroLeague Women game of the season in front of our own fans.
"And, if we didn't give our best, then we knew it would be our last EuroLeague Women game of the season altogether."
She added, "I am happy that when it was most important, we played a good game with aggressive defence and great team work - things that we were missing in the past."
However, the playmaker is experienced enough to appreciate that even with the same previously successful ingredients, it could still take an even bigger effort to land the decisive series victory she craves.
"For sure we will have to repeat this display and we will probably have to produce an even better performance in Bourges in order to win and advance," claimed Bojovic.
"We know how much home court advantage means and especially if it is in Bourges, one of the toughest teams to beat on their own floor.
"But, those games are the ones that keep the love and passion for the game alive and I don't think any special tactics or ideas will be needed - the team who fights the most and shoots the ball better will win.
"All we have to do now is to play forty good and aggressive minutes of basketball and our chances will then be good."
|Raffaella Masciadri and Famila Schio are looking to end Kayseri's winning streak on home soil|
Kayseri Kaski spor (8) vs Beretta Famila Schio (9)
Veteran Italian star, Raffaella Masciadri had demanded her team put everything on the line in their do-or-die battle at home against Kayseri Kaski spor.
And, her team-mates delivered with a fine 74-61 victory to set up a return to Turkish soil.
Masciadri had spoken of "believing and fighting right until the end - one of the things I learned right from the beginning of my time with Schio."
Such a rallying call proved to be effective, but it might take much more than that plus an impressive display to book a third successive place at the Final Eight.
For Schio must deny the hosts a fabulous sixth straight home win in the competition.
"In Kayseri, we will need to play the perfect game," emphasised Schio head coach, Miguel Mendez with candour.
The Spaniard is acutely aware that their opponents have one of the best home records of any club in the competition.
The fact that the tournament newcomers find themselves just 40 minutes away from a historic trip to the Final Eight is a real tribute to the job undertaken so far by Kayseri play-caller, Ayhan Avci.
And, he is also hoping yet more home comfort will be in the offing when both teams re-ignite their duel.
He said, "Playing at home has been a key factor for winning games and I hope it will be yet again for us."
The last time Kayseri fell on home soil was way back on the opening night of the campaign against Good Angels Kosice.
But, there could be a cruel irony in that if they were to finish the season the way they started it, all of their impressive work in between won't be enough to take them to Ekaterinburg.