Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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In one of the most entertaining and dramatic rounds of action so far, the penultimate week of the regular season gave us a beautiful reminder of just how much EuroLeague Women can both delight and shock.
A POKE IN THE EYE FOR THE CRITICS
|Arras have continued to fight this season, despite having no chance of going to the play-offs|
Whilst EuroLeague Women occasionally receives criticism for some of the mismatches thrown up due to some differences between the resources of those competing in it, the way that teams with nothing to play for (in terms of the play-offs) still compete so ferociously is outstanding.
It is testament to the commitment of the clubs, coaches and playing personnel that even when teams have already watched their play-off hopes evaporate and could easily ease off the gas, they still bring their ‘A Game' and offer copious amounts of perspiration and dedication.
Both Arras and Novi Zagreb had seen their chances of making the post season disintegrate long before they took to the court during the week, and yet they were both responsible for two of the most keenly contested games of Week 13.
Not every basketball competition can lay claim to having teams who show such a determination to push right up until the very last second of every game - regardless of circumstances or adversity.
Both Arras and Novi Zagreb had additional reasons for taking their foot off the gas and just go through the motions - but they didn't.
Arras are still buried deep in their relegation dogfight in the French League, whilst Zagreb lost the influential Sandra Mandir last weekend after she opted for greener pastures in Turkey. Yet both teams performed like it was the last time they would ever step onto a court.
TAKING THINGS FOR GRANTED ISN'T AN OPTION
The game between Arras and Municipal Targoviste was fantastic, with some of the most vicious momentum swings you could ever witness in the context of the game and also how it affected the dynamics of Group B.
I can't imagine how the UE Sopron players must have felt following this contest, needing Arras to prevail. They did of course - by a solitary point and much to the agony of Targoviste. If the Romanian club doesn't win against Good Angels Kosice next week, they will be left reflecting on how a glorious opportunity to advance slipped agonisingly through their fingers.
So, for those critics who point to blowouts during the season (as if somehow this is confined only to EuroLeague Women) I think the ledger has once more been balanced.
You can't take anything for granted or attempt to take liberties in this competition. That's also a warning worth heeding for those clubs soon to be labeled as favourites in the play-offs. Even thinking about stepping out in Ekaterinburg before tickets have been punched, could prove to be a grave mistake.
SWEET SOUND OF SUCCESS IN SALAMANCA
There are some great fans around EuroLeague Women, but few can rival the passion and knowledge shown by those in Salamanca. With that in mind, it was a thrill to hear the crowd and seem them on their feet as Avenida pulled off one of the shocks of the season by toppling UMMC Ekaterinburg.
After the highs of winning the title in 2011, it's generally been a succession of disappointments ever since, firstly failing to make Final Eight last year and then most of this season being a fusion of frustration and under-performance.
However, with 40 minutes of absorbing and gutsy basketball, these memories were more-or-less eradicated as Victor Lapena and his players rose from their graves, having almost stopped breathing in the competition. Not only did they awake from their slumber, but proceeded to dance their way towards the brink of qualification.
Critically, Avenida rebounded like their lives depended on it and went above and beyond any previous performance on the glass by some distance. I had highlighted this in the preview as being a potential ‘X-Factor' and it certainly was.
|Marta Xargay's performance this week suggests she is not about to plateu|
XARGAY LIGHTS IT UP, SANCHEZ RULED OUT
I also loved the performance of a player I admire greatly in Avenida's Marta Xargay. I have been worried that she was in danger of plateauing after bursting onto the scene. But her display (which came close to producing a triple-double) of 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, re-affirmed my belief that she can and will continue to develop into a top player.
But - and there is always a but in this competition - potentially making the Final Eight is still a long, long shot for Avenida. Even confirming a place in the play-offs will be difficult - just have a look at how hard Novi Zagreb pushed USO Mondeville.
Focus is everything for Avenida next week. This was a fantastic night against Ekat which will live long in the memory, but if there is one sure-fire way of spoiling that memory, it's following this superb result with a defeat. That would mean beating the tournament favourites counts for little.
Plus, they need to win for veteran campaigner Isa Sanchez, who sadly sustained a partial ACL in the game and will be ruled out for several months and so good luck to Isa in her rehabilitation.