|Paulina Pawlak played an integral part in Wisla Can-Pack's road win|
Polish Clubs Wisla Can Pack and CCC Polkowice were providing the talking point following the first night of the EuroLeague Women playoffs, with both claiming clinical road wins over higher seeds.
It was a great start to the post-season for the Polish teams, who now have the chance to progress in front of their own supporters and spark huge hometown parties. They were the only two teams who were able to win on the road.
Wisla (11) shrugged off the absence of point guard Cristina Ouvina and a horrific 20-8 start to the game at Bourges (6) to fight back and set up an exciting conclusion. Polish duo Paulina Pawlak and Justyna Zurowska both made huge plays in the last few minutes which were crucial before Tina Charles delivered in the clutch with a jump shot in the dying seconds to hand her team a 57-54 success.
For those watching the coverage, FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year Celine Dumerc went straight into the Bourges huddle after the game and demanded her team-mates did not become disappointed, an emotion only to be experienced if they don't make it through. She issued a rallying call for when they step out in the white-heat of Krakow, knowing they need to make amends with a win to set-up a decider back in Bourges.
There was a similarly tense and dramatic finish in Orenburg as CCC Polkowice (10) also claimed a three-point victory, eventually sneaking past Nadezhda (7) 74-71, after an up and down game which saw the momentum swing both ways. Having held a comprehensive double-figure lead, the visitors allowed it to evaporate, as Nadezhda rallied mainly through the irrepressible Dewanna Bonner to tie at 56, but Polkowice got it done when it mattered in the closing moments. The backcourt leadership of Laia Palau, a reigning EuroLeague Women champion, was a real feature of the game, as was the continued impact of rookie forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
Continuing the theme of a dramatic first night, Galatasaray (4) scraped past ZVVZ USK Prague (13) at home for the second time during this campaign. Having beaten them in a close tie during the regular season, they had to rely on a basket by debutante Lindsey Harding with seven seconds left to claim a 49-48 success. They had to endure the tension of Prague having an opportunity to win the game with the final possession but they could barely get off any kind of a shot.
Once again it was the outstanding defence of Galatasaray which proved decisive, managing to restrict the visitors to a paltry six points in the last quarter, although head coach Ekrem Memnum will be keen to get his team firing offensively with none of his players even managing to break double-digits.
|Ivana Matovic is in some of the best form of her life in Fenerbahce|
On the other side of the Bosphorus, Fenerbahce (3) were winning with somewhat more ease, routing Uni Gyor (14) 93-61. The highlight of the night for Fener was an eye-catching performance by Ivana Matovic whose rich vein of form continued as she produced 28 points on 13-for-15 shooting from the floor, alongside eight boards and four assists.
Veteran Becky Hammon was the driving force behind Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje (2) safely negotiating their way past a plucky Municipal Targoviste (15) who put up a good fight before finally falling 91-84. The guard showed her full repertoire of skills, handing out nine assists and burying five triples from six attempts. Evgeniia Belyakova, Candice Dupree and Seimone Augustus also excelled and they will be favourites to advance. However, Targoviste play-caller Florin Nini can be proud of his teams' efforts and they will be hoping another strong display, this time on home soil, may be enough to force a deciding game in Vidnoje.
Good Angels Kosice (5) were back on-song when they cruised past Perfumerias Avenida (12) with a convincing and powerful display. Their 82-68 success was mainly due to Plenette Pierson and Allie Quigley, although like most victories by the Slovakian club this season, the success was due to a real team effort. Avenida never really found any rhythm or momentum in the game, something head coach Victor Lapena will be looking to address in the second game when they will have a passionate home crowd at Wurzburg to fire them up even further.
Rivas Ecopolis (9) knew they would have to rebound better than they had all season on the road at Famila Schio (8) to have the best chance of taking a win, but despite achieving that objective with an impressive display on the glass, they were just edged out in the last couple of minutes, going down 69-63. Ukrainian forward Oleksandra Kurasova continued to shine brightly for Rivas, accumulating 23 points and nine rebounds, but it was Schio center Jantel Lavender who did the business late in the game, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds. A similar kind of contest beckons in game two, but Rivas head coach Miguel Mendez will be eager for his players to apply more pressure and use their quickness and energy to avoid being eliminated prematurely, having reached the Final of the competition last season.