Valenciennes and Gdynia will match up tomorrow to decide who wins the 2004 EuroLeague Women title and the similarities to 2 years ago are difficult to ignore.
In 2002 Valenciennes was the host team and they won their first and only title by beating Gdynia, 78:72. Just as this season, Valenciennes began the final four with a huge win. In 2002 their hapless semi-final opponents were Ruzomberok (108:60). This time it was Pecs who bore the brunt of the Valenciennes attack and the French side romped to a 75:53 win.
Gdynia will of course be hoping that this year will not be a repeat of 2002 and that this time they can overcome Valenciennes and win their first EuroLeague title.
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In the pre-game press conference, both coaches played down the parallels to 2002 and insisted that the results would have no bearing on this year’s final.
“All finals are different and tough,” said Valenciennes coach Laurent Buffard. “Two years ago we were in front of our home crowd and this was a big advantage for us. Tomorrow we do not have our crowd behind us so we have to rely on our team spirit.”
Gdynia coach Krzystof Koziorowicz also emphasised the difference between then and now.
“Our team is different to the team 2 years ago,” he said.
“The games yesterday also do not really matter,” Koziorowicz added. “USVO beat Pecs easily and we defeated Brno, but it has no meaning for tomorrow’s games.”
It is easy to make comparisons with 2002, but it should also be remembered that the 2 sides have already met twice this season in the qualifying round of the competition. Both teams were drawn in Group B and finished with identical 9-5 records, although Valenciennes took first place thanks to their superior goal average.
In the direct match-ups, USVO drew first blood 94-85 in France. Suzy Batkovic was the outstanding player on the day, as she poured in 29 points against the Polish side.
In Poland it was Gdynia who won (74:69), their 2nd win over Valenciennes in 5 years. Point guard Elaine Powell led a 4th quarter charge that saw Gdynia outscore Valenciennes 26:13 to win the contest.
While there is no questioning the fact that Valenciennes are a great side, it could be argued that they do not have the strength and depth of past seasons, a fact which Buffard alluded to in the press conference.
“The team is different from the one in 2002 when our 10th player was Teresa Edwards, someone who has won 4 Olympic titles. This year our bench is much shorter, but we are experienced and we will do what we can to win,” Buffard said.
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Experience will also be a factor and in that regards, Valenciennes have the upper hand. Sandra Le Drean, Allison Feaster, Edwige Lawson, Audrey Sauret and Ann Wauters (who was voted final four MVP) were all members of the team that won the title in 2002 and reached the final in 2003.
For Gdynia, only Margo Dydek, Joanna Cuprys and Agnieszka Bibrzycka remain from 2 years ago.
Whatever the events of the past, one goal remains clear for both teams and that is to win tomorrow.
“The final is something you dream about and we will do what we can to win. We did a great job in the season. The two teams are close and we are expecting a great game,” said Buffard.
“We are young, we want to win and the girls are yearning for success. We respect all teams, especially USVO, but we hope we win,” added Koziorowicz.