|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.|
Has there ever been a more crushing psychological loss than the one suffered by UMMC Ekaterinburg in the EuroLeague Women semi-finals?
That is now the question on everbody's lips after arch rivals Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje delivered a knockout blow of almost immeasurable proportions to emphasise the fact that when it comes to EuroLeague Women, they really do have Ekat's number.
The stakes were already high for Gundars Vetra and his team going into the semi-final game due to the painful history of losing against the defending champions during the previous three Final Four competitions. It was of course heightened by their status as hosts.
|Captain Maria Stepanova and everybody else at UMMC Ekaterinburg will be asking themselves what went wrong once again and they could not overcome their biggest nemesis|
Before the big tip-off, there was a sense that this really could be the time for this Ekat team to finally deliver. More accurately, it felt like it simply had to be the time when Ekat would finally deliver.
They didn't and instead, they lost for a fourth time to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje in the semi-finals and it was by far the most painful of the bunch. So much so, I even let out an involuntary and instinctive 'ouch' to myself as the game began to drift away from them down the stretch.
Rather than recriminations, accusations of Ekat players choking or failing to deal with the pressure, an issue identified in the pre-game hype by the likes of Laszlo Ratgeber, I just didn't think this was a factor in the end.
I wrote on the EuroLeague Women twitter feed early in the contest that the ability of Ekat to convert from outside would probably be the deal breaker and so it proved to some extent.
More than anything though, this demoralising and almost unbearable loss isn't about any shortcomings that Ekat may have.
For me, this is all about the guts, spirit, application and defence of a champion team who have just continued to amaze with every game since mid-season. It seems like two lifetimes ago when they lost to VICI Aistes in Kaunas.
Having beaten both Fenerbahce and Ekat since, it's fair to say they have reached the Final of the tournament via the most difficult route possible, something which only underlines this warrior-like basketball team.
While I have already waxed lyrical about Pokey Chatman and her team in a previous Paulball column, I really do feel that whatever happens in the showpiece game against Halcon Avenida on Sunday, this latest success over Ekat was a defining moment.
Not only does it hand Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje an opportunity to win an eye-popping fifth straight EuroLeague Women title, something which would surely rank as one of the biggest achievements in basketball history, but this victory also exposed one of the most striking examples I have ever seen of the cavernous difference between winning and losing a game of this magnitude.