Lauren Jackson erupted for 35 points and Tina Thompson weighed in with 24 as Spartak Moscow Region beat fellow Russian heavyweights UMMC Ekaterinburg in the opening game of the EuroLeague Women Final Four on Friday in Brno.
Jackson, the Australia international superstar, also had 12 rebounds as the defending champions won 78-
|Tina Thompson complemented Jackson with 24 points for Spartak.|
The player should be able to play in the final when Spartak face either Bourges or hosts Gambrinus Brno.
Ekaterinburg, who are as deep and talented as any team on the continent, gave Spartak fits for nearly three quarters but saw the game get away from them over the last 10 minutes.
Yelena Leuchanka, the Belarus international who joined Laurent Buffard's team from TEO Vilnius on the eve of the post-season, had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead a balanced Ekaterinburg attack.
The team got very little production from All Stars Penny Taylor and Agnieszka Bibrzycka.
Taylor, the MVP of Australia's world title win in Brazil two years ago, had three fouls in the first quarter and did not play the entire second period. She ended up with eight points and four rebounds for the game while Poland international Bibrzycka, a member of Spartak's all-conquering team one year ago, was limited to eight points as well.
She spent the majority of the fourth quarter on the bench.
Ekaterinburg got eight points in the opening frame from France star Sandrine Gruda and they were also sparked by Svetlana Abrosimova and Asjha Jones, who both scored baskets to help fire them to a 23-22 lead by the end of the period.
A three-point play by the lively Jones gave Ekaterinburg their biggest lead of the game at 32-27 three minutes into the second quarter.
That is when Jackson came to life.
After Diana Taurasi buried a jumper, Jackson scored Spartak's next 13 points as Spartak moved into a 40-37 advantage.
Natalia Hejkova's team took a 45-41 lead to half-time with Jackson's 19 leading all scorers.
When play resumed, Ekaterinburg clawed their way back.
They went on top at 54-53 after a three-ball from Kristi Harrower with 5:36 to go in the third quarter.
Leuchanka scored down low to increase the advantage, but Spartak hit back and a Jackson three-pointer put the Moscow Region club back in front at 58-56.
Taylor scored to tie the game at 58-58, but Jackson and Tatiana Shchegoleva scored on consecutive trips down the floor and Spartak took a 62-58 lead to the final quarter.
When Jackson split a pair of free throws seven minutes from the end, Spartak had a 70-58 stranglehold on proceedings.
Ekaterinburg stopped the 12-0 run with a Taylor basket, but got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.