Maria Stepanova confirmed her reputation as one of the leading players in international basketball by starring for BC Volgaburmash in their 75-52 home triumph over Dexia Namur in the first leg of their EuroLeague Women eighth-final play-off.
The 2.02m center was recently named the 2005 FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year and she celebrated by pouring in 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
The defending champions were slow out of the gate and trailed 24-21 at the end of the first quarter, but Stepanova and Ann Wauters, who finished with a team-high 21 points and nine boards, began to find their rhythm.
Wauters buried a jump shot for a 27-26 advantage, and after Rebekkah Brunson missed for Dexia, Stepanova struck with a jumper.
|Amaya Valdemoro |
Dexia played from behind the rest of the way.
"I'm happy with the result," said Volgaburmash coach Igor Grudin. "At this level there are no weak teams or players."
The visitors would have been encouraged by their first-half display as they went to the changing rooms behind 39-35.
Brunson began the second half by making a shot to pull her team to within two, but Russian international Olga Arteshina hit a shot from the arc and then Wauters followed with another basket as Volgaburmash began to take a firm grip on the game.
Dexia would end up stagnating in the third quarter, scoring just nine points as Volgaburmash established a 52-44 advantage.
"At first we had some problems with our defense, but as soon as we started to defend aggressively - we were able to get ahead in the game," added Grudin.
Volgaburmash pulled away in fine style over the final 10 minutes.
They scored 11 points in the opening two minutes of the fourth to make it 63-44 and despite the best efforts of Brunson, who had a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds, Dexia were beaten.
The second leg of their play-off takes place on Friday.