|Watch Sparta&K vs. Vilnius in the EuroLeague Women Game of the Week LIVE on livebasketball.tv|
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje are eyeing up top spot in EuroLeague Women Group C, but that means firstly avoiding a potential banana skin against their Lithuanian visitors.
After a spectacular run of six successive victories, Sparta&K misfired last time out at CCC Polkowice, although Sporting Director, Steve Costalas believes the team will bounce back against Kibirkstis VICI-Vilnius who won last week for the first time since November.
"I think the game in Polkowice was just a blip for us," he confirmed.
"Maybe the younger girls relaxed and were just expecting Sonja Petrovic or Evgenia Belyakova to get us out of a difficult situation, when in reality, everyone had to step up.
"We must come into this game against Kibirkstis with real focus and be ready to play, because this could be a difficult game.
"They are probably playing their last card and so will be out to throw everything at us.
"We would like to finish top of the group to put ourselves in the best possible situation for the play-offs," continued Costalas.
"We have three games and if we win all of them, then we will be in a great position.
"Or, if we win both of our home games, we should still be well placed.
"However, in some ways it doesn't really matter so much this season, since there will be many good teams who don't ultimately get a top seven ranking and can win road games - maybe teams like Tango Bourges, Good Angels Kosice or Beretta Famila Schio for example."
|Ksenia Levchenko is turning convential basketball thinking on its head, picking up minutes for Sparta&K, despite only being 17 and 1.65m|
Whilst head coach Alexander Vasin has rightfully taken the plaudits for the work he has done this season, Costalas can be proud of his own achievement of recruiting a young and exciting team which has certainly excelled - or at least so far.
Much to his delight, two rising stars in Daria Namok and Kseniia Levchenko have been making excellent progress.
"Namok is such a good shooter, but she also has real guts and plays aggressive defence," he stressed.
"Levchenko is playing only a few minutes per game, but even at just 17, she is being utilised in big situations such as playing defence at a decisive time against Epiphany Prince in the Russian Cup."
Even if his young guns are causing a supremely positive stir, Costalas also paid tribute to team leader Sonja Petrovic for the way she has delivered all season-long.
"It's incredible how Sonja has performed for us and the way that she plays hard when she is beaten up with injuries.
"Even after two operations, she has come back to really perform at such a very high and important level for us."
Form Guide: Sparta&K are currently third in group C with a 6-3 record and have lost only once in seven games. Their only defeat on home soil was during the season opener against ZVVZ USK Prague. They are also in third place in the Russian Premier League with an 11-4 record. In contrast, Kibirkstis have won only once in the last seven Euroleague Women games and are second from bottom in the group with a 3-6 record. Ironically their only road win so far, was also on the first day of the season. Domestically, they are top of the LMKL with a 19-1 record.
|Lina Pikciute had a personal-best 17 points in the competition last week |
The Hot Hands: Petrovic and Belyakova have been the main driving forces this season for Sparta&K and combine for almost half of their teams' scoring. Center Natalia Vieru came into form in the last game with a fine double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds, as well as three blocked-shots. Veteran Vita Kuktiene has been the most consistent performer for the visitors and is averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting the ball well from downtown. She also manages to draw a huge number of fouls with her experience and skills. Meanwhile, Lina Pikciute scored a career-high Euroleague Women tally of 17 points in her last game against WBC Novi Zagreb.
‘X Factors' & Match Ups: There will be a huge onus on Kibirkstis to rebound the basketball, otherwise they will be on the back foot from the outset. Sparta&K are one of the top three rebounding teams in the tournament and their opponents are the second worst. The other ‘X-Factor' could be how Kibirkstis shoot the ball from outside, since they have had real joy from long-range - only UMMC Ekaterinburg are better. Sparta&K may therefore focus on their perimeter defence and neutralising that threat. The match-up to watch could be Pikciute going up against Vieru and Tijana Ajdukovic and trying to give Kibirkstis a real foothold in the battle on the glass.
Did you know? Sonja Petrovic has made her last 18 free-throws and is also the second best shooter from the line in EuroLeague Women with a 96.3% conversion rate. Vita Kuktiene is the only Kibirkstis player who is averaging double-digits in scoring.