| ||Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org. |
Five Quarter-Final tickets have been punched early and another three are still up for grabs amidst the relentless twists and turns of another high octane EuroLeague Women stampede towards Final Four.
Before we focus on those last few precious spots in the last eight, let's start by paying homage to one club that entered a brand new chapter in its history book.
For weeks and weeks we have probably all been secretly waiting for the wheels to come off for Good Angels Kosice. After all, they don't have any secret behind their success - or do they? It would have seemed a prudent observation to think that the moment Candice Dupree and Angel McCoughtry stopped delivering big time, the death knell would sound for the Slovakian champions. Well, that wasn't the case and it's time to praise the supporting cast and in particular Lucia Kupcikova and Miljana Musovic.
In the fantastic road win at Schio, Kupcikova evoked memories of her performances with Slovakia last year at EuroBasket Women in Latvia as she recorded a superb 17 points and nine rebounds. In the home tie as the Good Angels reached a new milestone in their history, the contribution of Musovic meanwhile was just as critical as the Serbian registered 12 points in a tight game.
Now Good Angels Kosice face UMMC Ekaterinburg and they will be overwhelming underdogs - but will they care? No, because they were even bigger underdogs when they started this ELW season 0-3 and everybody had pretty much written them off.
On a lighter note, I have realised the secret of the basketball life-force of Candice Dupree. I tell you something - that girl can seriously chew some gum through a game!
|Dalma Ivanyi had a huge triple-double for MiZo Pécs.|
Last Friday night we were undoubtedly treated to three of the best performances of the tournament so far and in the case of Dalma Ivanyi, arguably the most important and impressive EuroLeague Women display bar none.
The veteran rolled back the years and conjured up a sprightly and magical triple-double for Pecs to force a third and decisive game in Krakow and boy did it arrive just the right time for her team! 24 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists is wonderful in any game at any time but to produce this line in such a critical ELW last sixteen game was just fantastic!
Spartak Moscow Region Vidnoje still remain the only unbeaten team in the tournament and stormed into the Quarter-Finals with a typically outstanding effort by Diana Taurasi who again showcased her brilliance with 31 points including five triples. However what about team-mate Janel McCarville? Absolutely terrific! I had been waiting for weeks and weeks for someone to equal or surpass the seven steals claimed by Lisa Willis of TEO Vilnius right at the start of the competition and I am guessing even Janel herself mightn't have bet too much money on her being the one to do it! She claimed 13 points and 7 rebounds against Lotos Gdynia and showed great hands by racking up a remarkable nine steals! This not only shot her to the top of that particular statistical category but was a victory for ‘the bigs' who probably get sick of hearing those guards at the top of the zone telling everyone not to worry and they will be the ones to come up with the steals!
Bitter-Sweet for Hernandez
It was a real bitter-sweet week for Wisla Can Pack coach Jose Hernandez. His team ripped Mizo Pecs apart in game one and he was then handed the reins of the Spanish national team. However his team then crashed in game two in Pecs to set up that mouth watering clash this week back in Poland - just the kind of pressurised situation that the play-caller thrives on!
It was a bad week for Italian basketball as both Beretta-Famila Schio and Cras Baket Taranto crashed out of the tournament. Perhaps most disappointing is that both had showed much promise and were up against opponents you felt they could beat and yet neither even managed to force a deciding game.
I have to confess to having been truly battered by a friend of mine who claimed he could have picked half of the teams to get to the Quarter-Finals blindfolded. Perhaps in the case of UMMC Ekaterinburg, Spartak Moscow and Ros Casares he might have a point - no disrespect to their last sixteen opponents of course. However I think I did make a great call in tipping Good Angels Kosice to beat Schio and to a lesser extent for Fenerbahce to beat Cras Basket Taranto. So that is five of five all safely through - even if two were a little quicker than I had expected! I have also tipped Halcon Avenida, Wisla Can-Pack and Rivas Ecopolis to all progress and win their respective series' 2-1 and everything remains on course.
Looking at some of the specifics from my preview, Candace Parker and the defence of Ekat really came to the fore. I am going to keep banging this particular drum repetitively but I think the ability of the Russian giants to strangle the life out of teams down the stretch is the biggest factor in this years tournament. By finishing a tight game in Turkey last week with an 11-1 run, they once again highlighted their ability to put an opponent into serious offensive lockdown.
When Mizo Pecs were obliterated in Krakow last week, it raised many eyebrows and mine were heading northwards but quickly dropped back to their normal resting place when I realised that Anna Vajda hadn't played. While Ivanyi grabbed the glory in their confidence boosting home-court win the other night, you couldn't help but feel that wouldn't have been possible had Vajda not returned to the side. Consequently Wisla might not have it all their own way in the third and final game. I still think they will progress but another blow-out? I don't think so. Pecs are made of sterner stuff with the influential Vajda on the floor.
Bourges have given themselves a real shot at making the last eight with their tight home win against Halcon Avenida. While I think winning in Salamanca is actually beyond them and I am sticking with the original plan of 2-1 to the Spanish club, the French side do have the defence and physicality to make it an awkward night for their hosts. Halcon Avenida will have to raise the tempo and shoot the ball well from outside with a big onus on De Mondt and Torrens to make some triples. Bourges have genuinely impressed me ever since I criticised them midway through the Qualifying round but the cold hard facts are that Bourges have a solitary road win to their name against a short handed Kosice way back in Week two. That doesn't mean they can't do it (and make me look silly) but the smart money would be on French resistance finally cracking and Coach Vincent and his players finally bowing out of the tournament.
Last but not least, I have to say that Rivas winning in Brno really helped me save some serious face as had they been dumped out of the tournament, this would have been my quest for prediction perfection completely blown out of the water. I have stated 2-1 to the Spanish club that now has a fifty-fifty chance of happening although I didn't think both teams would win their respective road trips!
To thank Rivas for keeping me on course for being able to potentially claim bragging rights as a top tipster I managed to get along to their Liga Femenina game over the weekend. They managed to grind out a result but they did look seriously jaded and that could be a critical factor. I can't help but think that Brno have blew a massive opportunity and that by having to do the travelling for this second time, home advantage will finally count. Jelena Dubljevic remains the ‘X Factor' for me and if she has a big game I do feel Rivas will progress. However with Dewanna Bonner firing on all cylinders for Frisco Siko Brno it won't be easy for the hosts and perhaps it could simply come to who has the most gasoline left in the tank on the night.You can now follow EuroLeague Women with Paul Nilsen on Twitter