|13 March 2014|
|Isabelle Yacoubou and Fenerbahce are still undefeated and hope to book their ticket for the Final Eight on Friday |
The top seeds all bagged opening night play-off victories in the race to reach the EuroLeague Women Final Eight and it now means the seven beaten teams must respond positively if they want to force a series-deciding third meeting.
To make it back to Ekaterinburg next month, CCC Polkowice (15) have to do what no other team has managed to do all-season and not only inflict a defeat on flawless Fenerbahce (1), but then repeat the feat. Jacek Winnicki and his team competed impressively for much of the first game, but Fenerbahce eventually wore them down to ease to a 75-57 success.
Agnieszka Bibrzycka starred in the contest against her former team as Fenerbahce extended their spectacular winning run to 13 games.
Isabelle Yacoubou admitted it wasn't as comfortable as the final margin suggested, even though Polkowice missed the experienced Janel McCarville in the paint.
She said, "The Final Eight is of course very important to us, but the first victory wasn't easy and we really had to produce a good fight."
CCC Polkowice certainly don't give up anything easy and are a strong defensive unit, but will really have to come up with something special if they want to produce a seismic-scale shock.
Rivas Ecopolis (14) will go up against ZVVZ USK Prague (3) hoping to get back to the way they started their opener and certainly prior to imploding and eventually being swept aside 77-58.
Head coach Jose Hernandez regretted his team were not able to maintain their bright opening and admitted what followed wasn't good enough.
He confessed, "We made a good start to the game, but then had terrible second and third quarters. We did not fight like we always do in our games.
"Prague played a terrific game and played harder than us on defence and were more aggressive."
|Ilona Burgrova is a key factor for ZVVZ USK Prague in their series with Rivas|
His counterpart Natalia Hejkova meanwhile was happy her team eventually found top gear and paid tribute to Ilona Burgrova, who had an excellent shooting night and also helped nullify the threat of dangerous Rivas forward Laura Nicholls.
"I sensed the players understood the importance of this match and felt the need to win," claimed Hejkova.
"Our game has changed with Ilona, who we can always rely on defensively. She does a lot of the dirty work and also looked composed on offence which was super.
"It was one of her best performances this season."
Uniqa Euroleasing Sopron (13) also suffered a big loss after being overrun 81-43 at Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje (4), as the former four-time winners exploded behind a headline contribution from Sonja Petrovic. The Serbian has had a stellar time all-year and deservedly took the accolade as the top performer of all the first round of play-off games, claiming an all-action 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Sopron never got started and head coach Igor Polenek bemoaned his side's lack of focus by stating, "We played very badly and were not up for the mental challenge."
But, with a number of home wins behind them during the regular season, it isn't out of the question that they could respond positively and force a decider - although they will probably have to slow down Sparta&K and keep it ugly to stand the best chance.
Perfumerias Avenida (12) fell on the road 70-61 at Galatasaray odeabank (5), but have huge hope of squaring the series having completed a rousing and comprehensive win against the Turkish powerhouse during the regular season.
And, with their noisy fans behind them in Pabellon Wurzburg and Eshaya Murphy still very much on-song, it promises to be an entertaining and fascinating match-up.
|Good Angels head coach Maros Kovacik hopes for his team to bounce back and snap their negative streak against Bourges|
Good Angels Kosice (11) are looking to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat to Tango Bourges (6) inside the space of a year, as they re-engage with their fellow 2013 EuroLeague Women semi-finalists.
With the experience of Zuzana Zirkova back on board and having since also added Russian veteran Irina Osipova, it could be fourth time lucky - or at least head coach Maros Kovacik is hoping so after being squeezed defensively in a 59-51 loss earlier in the week.
"I was proud of the performance of the girls against a strong opponent and by improving certain parametres of our game for Friday, we can think about a successful revenge," he claimed.
There may not have been any upsets in the openers, but Wisla Can-Pack (10) came so very close to completing an outrageously dramatic comeback against Nadezhda (7) before just running out of time and being pipped 52-48.
Stefan Svitek and his team were blunted offensively for 30 minutes by the disciplined and well-organised Nadezhda defence, but then threw a defensive blanket of their own over the Russians, who included the newly arrived Latvian guard, Elina Babkina.
Trailing by 16 points heading into the last ten minutes, Wisla locked down Nadezhda and almost snatched a priceless victory in an ending which sets up the second game superbly. The Wisla fans will create a special atmosphere in Krakow and with the fabulous Jantel Lavender to lead the way, they will feel they have a great opportunity to take a win and put the pressure back onto their opponents.
Finally, Beretta Famila Schio (9) will have to win back-to-back games against Kayseri Kaski spor (8) if they want to take their place at the Final Eight for a third successive year. Miguel Mendez and his team dropped to a 63-50 defeat in Turkey against the newcomers, who continue making a sizeable splash during their first season.
Lara Sanders and Tanisha Wright were sensational in game one and Schio will have to come up with a strategy to rein them in if they want to avoid ending their season with a fourth straight loss. Although at least the Italians can take confidence from a 73-62 home win against Kayseri earlier in the campaign.