| ||Jeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003.|
Tell me you were surprised by the outcome of the EuroLeague Women Final Four and I'll tell you that you shouldn't have been.
Spartak Moscow Region did something that had never been done before by capturing the title for a third straight year.
Don't bet against a team that has Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird when the stakes are high.
UMMC Ekaterinburg won the Russian Cup over Spartak Moscow Region and beat them to first place in the Superleague Women regular season, but UMMC coach Gundars Vetra's decision not to utilize his team's biggest strength - its depth - surely didn't help them against Spartak.
Vetra might have tried to wear down Spartak and their superstar guard Sue Bird.
Instead, he chose the opposite and played Bird's USA international teammate Cappie Pondexter for 39 minutes.
Vetra left four Olympians on the bench. Russia internationals Svetlana Abrosimova, Natalia Vodopiyanova, Oxana Rakhmatulina and Belarus center Yelena Leuchanka did not play.
Coaches have to make tactical decisions and Vetra made one here by leaving four battle-hardened players - three of them European champions - on the pine.
It was a kick in the teeth and that was evident two days later.
When the versatile Abrosimova played her heart out in the battle for third place against Sopron and ran off the court, Vetra put his hands out as if to get a low five but she looked straight ahead and appeared to ignore him, her pride clearly wounded from events 48 hours before.
What must Russia's new national team coach Valeriy Tikhonenko have thought as he looked on from the stands?
As it was, Bird played 39 minutes and had 17 points.
As good as she was on offense, she was even better on defense. Had Abrosimova and Rakhmatulina played, and hounded Bird, maybe she would have been less effective.
After the game, two things came to mind.
- Taurasi, who had 33 points in the 83-74 Semi-Final win over UMMC Ekaterinburg and followed that up with 31 in the 85-70 title triumph over Halcon Avenida, is the most exciting player in the game.
- Bird is one of the top five players in the world. In the big games, she always delivers.
As for another Final Four that was excellent from start to finish, I salute you Halcon Perfumerias Avenida and Salamanca for being wonderful hosts.
Go visit this beautiful city if you have a chance and also, experience the incredible atmosphere at an Avenida basketball game.
Bravo MKB Euroleasing Sopron, their coach Norbert Székely and their fans that made the journey from Hungary and not only joined in the festive environment but even did a conga line in the Plaza Major late Saturday night with some of the students at Salamanca University - the oldest in Spain.
UMMC fans, you also travelled in big numbers and should be praised for backing your team.