By Jeff Taylor
Spartak Moscow Region gained the upper hand in the Russia Superleague Women title race with an 84-70 win at UMMC Ekaterinburg over the weekend.
The outcome has left both sides with 15-1 records in the regular season, but Spartak's +14 margin of victory has given them the superior goal average in their head-to-head meetings with UMMC and thus earned them first place in the standings.
When UMMC and Spartak play, the games are always intense and the stakes are high.
UMMC beat Spartak in the Russian Cup earlier this year while the sides will meet again on April 9 in the EuroLeague Women Final Four.
Both teams are also likely to meet in the Superleague Women Finals.
|Pokey Chatman coached the Rest of the World team at the All Star Game earlier this month|
Spartak coach Pokey Chatman says the latest win bolstered her team's confidence but stressed that more important battles against UMMC are to follow.
"I wouldn't insult anyone's intelligence by saying it doesn't mean anything," she said.
"Anytime you can have success against one of the best teams in the world, it is helpful.
"As you learn from losses, you also learn from wins. But this is where it ends. Two leagues - Russian, Euro - two different sets of circumstances. We will continue working to improve as will Ekat.
"And I'm sure another epic match-up will take place."
In the weekend showdown, UMMC's FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year Sandrine Gruda of France had 18 points and 10 rebounds, but that wasn't nearly enough.
UMMC were out of rhythm on offense.
Gundars Vetra's side struggled shooting the ball, hitting just four of 19 shots from behind the arc and 12 of 21 (57.1%) at the free-throw line.
Spartak, who are the three-time defending champions of the EuroLeague Women, buried nine of 23 from long range.
As is often the case, Diana Taurasi led Spartak with 28 points while Sue Bird contributed 16.
Spartak's Ilona Korstin and Sylvia Fowles (both 11pts) also hit double figures in the win.
Chatman, in her first season as the head coach of Spartak, spoke to Basketball World News about the game.
How did you go to Ekaterinburg and not only win, but prevail by 14 points to take pole position in the Russian standings?
Pokey: Ekat is always a tough opponent. They have tremendous talent - (Cappie) Pondexter,
|FIBA Europe's Women's Player of the Year Sandrine Gruda of UMMC Ekaterinburg had a double double against Spartak but saw her side go down to the arch rivals|
(Candice) Parker, (Deanna) Nolan, Gruda, Biba (Agnieszka Bibrzycka), (Maria) Stepanova, (Ann) Wauters, etc - and a fine coaching staff. We knew this game would be a battle to not only win, but to cover the spread. We had to lock in on every possession and be mentally prepared. Not only was JMac (Janell McCarville) not playing, but this was a road game with 6,000 (UMMC) fans against the top team in Russia that we had lost to previously. To make a long story short, we were focused and fortunate to carry out our game plan on both ends of the floor. It was a total team effort, with many players contributing in areas that don't show up on the stat sheet, but we value as a club. For example, screeners are just as important as scorers in our system. Get a teammate open, make a second cut! Read the defense.
I've asked you before but once again - is your team getting better and better as the season goes along?
Pokey: I think many individuals have taken the time to improve their conditioning, strength, shooting, passing, etc., which in essence has improved our team. Also, we are in a different club from last year and we have learned how to achieve desired results, albeit in a different manner. Yes, we are improving, but every team that is successful this time of year is improving. With that being said, we understand that our focus and intensity must continue to improve over the next several weeks.
Will you tell your players that UMMC are going to be more determined than ever after this result when they take on Spartak in Valencia?
Pokey: I won't mention this result again this season. We enjoyed it for 24 hours. It's over! Focus forward.