|Natalia Hejkova will be more than just a spectator at this year's Final Eight|
fibaeurope.com women's basketball specialist Paul Nilsen takes a look back on the EuroLeague Women play-offs.
A SPECIAL TRIP FOR HEJKOVA
Natalia Hejkova was courtside in Ekaterinburg last year. Only not with her team, instead watching on with interest from the stands. I distinctly remember wondering if she would be able to get ZVVZ USK Prague to their first Final Eight this time around and I have to say, she hasn't missed a beat so far this season. Whilst there was a little trouble in the second game of the series against gutsy Rivas, her players finished the job. Consequently coaching a team she once played for at the big bash next month will be special and also a deserved reward for a terrific campaign. If Prague continue to play the way they can, then it would be quite something if she went up against Sparta&KM.R. Vidnoje in the semi-finals, the club she of course led all the way to the top of the podium several years ago.
PERFORMANCE OF THE PLAY-OFFS
In terms of significance, drama and the context of the polar opposite emotions after the despair of last year's stomach-churning EuroCup Women Final loss, I am handing the award to Kayseri Kaski Spor. With Beretta Famila Schio having levelled the series and then proceeding to take a double-digit lead in the decider, Kayseri could have crumbled - but they didn't. They showed huge mental strength to get the job done. Massive credit is due to head coach, Ayhan Avci and he is possibly about to make a late surge to challenge for the unofficial EuroLeague Women Coach of the Year award if his team springs some (relative) upsets in Ekaterinburg.
DIKEOULAKOS DELIVERS IN A BIG WAY
|Greece head coach George Dikeoulakos transformed the fortunes of Nadezhda after answering an SOS call|
It was way back during my Week 4 review in late November of last year, that I wrote ‘Dikeoulakos can deliver for Nadezhda' and explained that even after a 0-4 start and with little margin for error, he could turn things around and use a schedule heavily skewed in favour of their home court to realise a Final Eight lifeline. Well, maximum credit and respect, because he made history and fulfilled the dream of the Russian club and they are said to be celebrating by paying for some of their fans to go to the event. Dikeoulakos sorted out alleged locker room disharmony, organised the team on the foundation of his trademark discipline and defensive principles, and basically got everyone playing to their potential. Led of course by the brilliant DeWanna Bonner, whose near triple-double of 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the decisive game against Wisla was incredible. Dikeoulakos is yet another coach who deserves to be praised in a big way and could he yet take his team to a semi-final against his former team, Fenerbahce? Now that really would be a special occasion for him.
HAPPY FOR KALTSIDOU
I received many messages after a recent feature I wrote about Bourges forward, Stella Kaltsidou and there's little doubt she is a hugely popular figure. After her double ACL injury in the last couple of years and missing out on Final Eight during 2013 as a result, many people within the women's game will have been delighted to see her reach the final phase and hopefully now go on to make a debut in Ekat. She's a great character and also reminded us of what a good player she is too, with 18 points against Kosice in the deciding game.
As has been well-documented, it has been a challenging season for Good Angels Kosice and their head coach, Maros Kovacik. Having had a magnificent debut in the competition, for one reason or another, it has been tough for him to replicate that success. Not quite the same as a breakthrough musician's ‘difficult second album', but it's an interesting comparison and how he bounces back next year will be interesting. But before that, he must ensure Slovak Republic reach EuroBasket Women 2015 and amidst the gloom of being defeated in Bourges, the radiant light of a dazzling display by Zuzana Zirkova will have been a big tonic. If he can persuade the veteran to pull a national team shirt back on, it will increase his nation's chances immeasurably and especially if she shows the kind of class she did in the later stages on French soil, when she almost instigated a shock comeback before fouling out.
| Endene Miyem has finished five EuroLeague Women games this season with 16 points|
Natalia Vieru of Sparta&K M.R. Vidonje became only the third player this season to get five or more blocks in a game when she accomplished the feat against UE Sopron.
The efforts of Vieru helped Sparta&K to equal their own record for swatting most shots in a game this season, with a total of nine blocks.
Of the three teams who have drawn the most fouls in a single game this season, all have been against Good Angels Kosice.
Stella Kaltsidou and Zuzana Zirkova both recorded season-high scores in the final play-off game against each other.
Bourges forward Endene Miyem likes the number 16. She has finished with this points total on no fewer than five times this season!
Nadezhda forward DeWanna Bonner has registered six double-doubles so far and on four occasions, she has finished with 13 rebounds. More curiously, during both play-off games against Wisla Can-Pack (a combined 75 minutes), she didn't take a single offensive rebound.
You can follow Paul @basketmedia365 for women's basketball tweets.