By Paul Nilsen
UE Sopron forward Jelena Milovanovic has hailed Fenerbahce as a potential Final Eight champion ahead of the match-up with the Turkish giants in EuroLeague Women Group B.
The Serbian and her team-mates are bracing themselves for a tough contest when Fener arrive in town and she is urging her colleagues to continue sticking together in what could be another difficult night of work for the struggling Hungarian side.
"This years' Final Eight is going to be so exciting and I can't wait to watch it," declared Milovanovic.
"Who knows who is going to win it in the end, but for sure, Fenerbahce is one of the best teams in Europe.
"We are just going to give our best from the very first until the very last minute.
"They have so many great players in each and every position, so we just have to play as a team - just as we have done until now.
"This season hasn't been so good for us," she continued.
"However, we were always so close in almost every game, but unfortunately these games just didn't finish good for us.
"I am happy with my own form, but as a team player, I know I would be so much happier if we were winning games."
It's certainly true that had Sopron managed to do the business in the clutch of such games, things could have been so much different and instead of Milovanovic talking about watching the Final Eight, there could be an outside shot of actually playing in the season finale.
The team have lost five of their seven games by a margin of six or fewer points and whilst that doesn't exactly give cause for satisfaction or celebration, it does at least show that Sopron have pretty much punched their weight taking into account their resources.
One of those relatively close games was a 77-71 loss in Istanbul and so Fenerbahce will know Sopron are also capable of pushing hard for a win and making life difficult. Notably Fener are also 2-2 on the road so far and will therefore want to improve this with a tricky trip to Good Angels Kosice still left on their schedule.
|Fenerbahce's Ivana Matovic has been in great form this season|
Form Guide: UE Sopron have managed just two wins from nine games, both coming against basement dwellers and fellow strugglers Arras. Domestically, they are proudly unbeaten with an excellent 17 wins from 17 games. Fenerbahce are 6-2 having lost on the road at both Nadezhda and Famila Schio. They are however impregnable both at home in EuroLeague Women and also in the Turkish League, where they lead the table and are still unbeaten. Having won the President's Cup back at the start of the season, they suffered a painful last gasp loss in the Turkish Cup Final to Galatasaray recently.
The Hot Hands: Milovanovic is the second best scorer in EuroLeague Women so far this season with 19.9 points per game, having achieved a double-figure score in all but one game this season. She has also exploded twice for scores in excess of 30 points. Ivana Matovic and Anastasiya Verameyenka continue to impress in a big way for Fener. Matovic is having one of the best seasons of her career with an outstanding 16.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game - the last number perhaps being the most impressive of all. Verameyenka is revelling in her new surroundings after last summer's move from Nadezhda by shooting 60% from the field and therefore leading the competition in field goal percentage from two-point range as well as in blocked shots, of which she averages 2.3 per game.
'X Factors': Shenise Johnson started the season like an express train, but has really suffered in recent weeks going 5 of 25 from the field in the last couple of games. It is essential for Sopron that she re-discovers some form if they are to have any chance of winning, since she offers so much in so many different facets of the game. If she is on-song, then Sopron become a different team and have a slim shot of causing an upset. Fenerbahce will see if Cappie Pondexter is recovered sufficiently from her hand injury after cutting it on glass after punching out in frustration in the aftermath of that gut-wrenching Cup Final defeat. This is a mismatch on paper and therefore the nuances and 'X-Factors' are minimal. It's down to Sopron trying to raise their game and just hoping they catch the stacked Fener team having a bad day at the office. One thing absolutely vital is that Sopron compete on the boards since they were absolutely pummelled on the glass at Schio last week and out-rebounded by 46-23. A repeat of that will give them an even bigger mountain to climb.