|Veteran Halcon Avenida player Isabel Sanchez credits Head Coach Lucas Mondelo for rotatiting efficiently and getting the most of bench players|
By Jeff Taylor
There is nothing to dislike about Halcon Avenida right now.
That's true for the fans, and the players themselves.
Flying high at the top of the Spanish league, the Salamanca club is also returning to the EuroLeague Final Four for the second time in three years.
In their latest game, Avenida won 88-80 at Cadi La Seu at the weekend.
"We have a great team, one of the best teams I've ever played for," Avenida veteran Isa Sanchez said to Basketball World News.
"The best thing is that this team is together, both on and off the court."
Avenida are turning on all cylinders.
Silvia Dominguez is marshalling the troops as the point guard and captain, while Avenida have a one-two punch under the basket in Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle that could be the best in Europe.
Lucas Mondelo, who is coaching Avenida for the first time this season, has the luxury of having two sharpshooters - Australia's Belinda Snell and Belgium's Anke De Mondt - to throw at opponents, as well as Spain's national team sensation Alba Torrens and emerging star Marta Xargay.
Equally important is that Avenida have the experience of Sanchez and Anna Montanana.
Both are players that have been in a lot of big games in their careers with both clubs and Spain's national team.
Each has been in the EuroLeague Women Final before.
"When we played at the Final Four and reached the Final, it was great for the city, the players," Sanchez said.
"For this Final Four, though, we'll have a different mentality.
"We knew that Final Four would be really, really difficult to win. But in this one, it's different. We know we can do it.
|Spain international Sancho Lyttle forms a lethal frontcourt combination with Erika De Souza|
"Sparta&K is not the same team they used to be."
The previous Sparta&K sides had Diana Taurasi - the MVP of the last two Final Fours - and Sylvia Fowles.
There was also the top defensive player in the Sparta&K side, Marina Karpunina, who has been hurt this season and isn't playing.
"For me, Ekaterinburg are the favorites and not only because it's in their house, but because they are playing really good basketball," Sanchez said.
"But no one knows, Ros Casares have a really good team, too."
For anyone that watched Avenida pull away from Ros Casares in their recent league showdown, Avenida's third straight victory over their Spanish rivals this season, Torrens would have made quite an impression.
The EuroLeague Women All-Star looks to be playing the best basketball of her young career.
"Alba brings quickness and is in a very good moment," Sanchez said.
"So we need to give her more balls."
And what of the coach?
Mondelo doesn't get that many headlines, with the star players in his team getting most of the publicity.
But he has the team playing hard, and well.
"Definitely he's been great," Sanchez said.
"Yes, we have different players (from last season).
"He gives us a lot of competition and has used the bench more so we're in the game more."
The Mental Edge
All that Avenida should be thinking about before they travel to Russia is the first game against Ros Casares.
The Valencia outfit has been a club in crisis with injuries to players, a change of coaches and bad results.
Natalia Hejkova replaced Jordi Fernandez, the man who coached Avenida last season, at the helm before the team's 2-0 sweep of Bourges in the EuroLeague Women Quarter-Finals.
But in the Spanish league, they are suffering.
Not only did Avenida blow them out in Valencia, but Ros also crashed to defeat against Copa de la Reina winners Rivas Ecopolis over the weekend, 74-62.
After the game, Hejkova sounded very frustrated.
"I don't understand why we have played like this," Hejkova said.
"During the week we trained really well which makes it all the more difficult to comprehend why we have made so many errors."
Even more cracks began to show in the Ros Casares side when Hejkova criticized her team's top two players following the loss to Rivas.
"All the players must fight but there are players in the team like Katie Douglas and Rebekkah Brunson that are used to leading their teams," Hejkova said.
"Tonight they didn't do it."
Avenida's players do believe they have a mental edge against Ros because of their success against them this season.
"Definitely yes," Sanchez said.
"For us, we have more confidence that we can beat this team again.
"For them, they will be psychologically down a little.
"But it will be a different game at the Final Four.
"The conditions will be different."