Samara’s season of destiny continued on Friday night at the EuroLeague Women Final Four with a victory over Lietuvos Telekomas.
Samara are bidding to become the first team since Comense in 1995 to go through a European season undefeated. If they can beat Gambrinus Brno in Sunday’s final, they will have recorded an 18-0 record since opening their EuroLeague Women campaign against Parma in November.
However, the path to victory has not always been a smooth one for Samara, and the Russian side produced an admittedly sub-par performance against a tough Lietuvos Telekomas outfit.
"We are happy to have won. The game was a struggle and I am disappointed with the quality of the game, we can play better,” said Samara coach Igor Grudin.
Samara threatened to overwhelm their opponents early on as they raced out to an 8-2 start. The Russians had all facets of their considerable arsenal working to perfection, as Maria Stepanova and Ann Wauters worked the inside game, while Olga Arteshina and Ilona Korstine provided the outside threat.
The score stood 19-9 after 10 minutes and Samara were already in cruise control.
The second quarter was no better for the visiting side. They continued to struggle with their shooting and made virtually no impact into Samara’s lead.
Lietuvos only had themselves to blame for the deficit. They squandered open shot after open shot and seemed intimidated by Samara’s cavalcade of stars.
A halftime talk from coach Algirdas Palauskas worked wonders for Lietuvos telekomas.
The Lithuanian side outscored Samara 6-0 in the opening of the third quarter, cutting the lead to just 4 points, 35-31. While Lietuvos had seemed nervous in the first half, it was Samara who were on edge in the third quarter, typified by 2 consecutive air balls from Svetlana Abrosimova and Stepanova.
But it was one of those days for Lietuvos, when it looked as if it just wasn’t meant to be. As soon as they were able to string a run together, a couple of missed shots would gift control of the game right back to Samara.
LIetuvos harboured hopes of a comeback until the last 5 minutes, and when Douglas followed a driving lay-up with a steal, it looked like the kind of play which could spark a sustained run. Following the steal, Douglas found herself at the three-point line in acres of space. The ensuing attempt missed, and it took most of her team’s hopes with it.
“Samara were the better team today,” conceded Lietuvos Telekomas coach Algirdas Palauskas after the game.
“Even before the start of this competition they were the favourites. We struggled today and shot the ball badly, which was why we lost.
Their team was better and this had a psychological effect on our players, which effected our shooting."
Grudin was circumspect in victory, recognising his team’s failure to perform to their ability and wary of reproducing the same kind of form in Sunday’s final.
"We had a problem with our shooting. They played good defense and we couldn’t execute our game plan exactly as we wanted to. We need to change something before the final, because Brno also play very good defense,” he said
Olga Arteshina finished as top scorer for Samara, hitting 17 points on 7/8 shooting. Stepanova was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points.
Katie Douglas top scored for Lietuvos Telekomas with 17 points, to which she added 8 rebounds and 6 steals.