The first ever EuroLeague Women All-Star Game turned into the Maria Stepanova show as the 2005 FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year led Europe to an easy win over the Rest of the World in Pecs, Hungary.
Stepanova poured in 18 points, four of which came on two dunks, as Europe eased to an 86-67 victory.
The 202 cm center scored 8 points in the first quarter as Europe managed to gel quicker than their American counterparts. The Europeans jumped out to a 7-0 lead and led by as many as 9 points in the first period.
The Rest of the World countered late in the quarter, thanks to some impressive play from Mondeville guard Grace Daley. Daley hit 7 points in the final four minutes of the period to bring her side back to within one point, 19-18, after 10 minutes.
|Maria Stepanova with the Player of the Year trophy|
The game stayed exciting into the second quarter, mainly thanks to Stepanova.
She opened the period with a short jump shot and then followed it up with the play of the game. Getting hold of an errant pass from Daley, Stepanova went the length of the court for a two-handed dunk which rocked the crowd.
The game stayed close for the rest of the quarter as the Rest of the World hit their stride, and a jump shot from Dexia Namur's Rebekkah Brunson gave the Americans their only lead of the game, 32-34.
Agnieszka Bibrzycka replied with a jumper and a three-pointer from Brno's Eva Viteckova gave Europe a 37-34 lead at the half.
After a 20-minute break for the three-point shootout, Europe came back into the game with the hot hand. They opened the second half with an 8-0 run, including two three-pointers from Spain international Elisa Aguilar, which put them in firm control, 47-34.
Valenciennes forward Sandra Le Dréan then stepped up to hit 9 points in final 6 minutes to give Europe a 65-48 lead at the 30-minute mark.
With the game more or less in the bag, it was left for Stepanova to add the finishing touch.
Once again she incercepted a Grace Daley pass and went coast-to-coast for another two-handed flush, which gave Europe an unassailable 76-57 lead with just give minutes remaining.
The dunk put a cap on another MVP performance from Stepanova.
"My first dunk didn't really go down, so I was happy I had a second opportunity. It was a great feeling," said Stepanova
"Dunks are attractive for the spectators. They want a show and Maria gave it to them," added Russian national team player Ilona Korstin.
Entertainment was definitely the theme of the night as the All-Stars tried to keep the fans excited.
"In my opinion, it's never easy an All-Star game as you are not used to playing with those players, its really entertainment. I think we did ok and the fans enjoyed it and that was the main thing, to have fun on the court and to show that to the fans," said Belgian star Ann Wauters.
"I'm happy to have participated in the first All-Star game and I hope it will help to promote women's basketball."
Despite the loss, the Rest of the World players had the chance to enjoy the All-Star experience, led by MiZo Pecs guard Vickie Johnson.
"It was great being a part of something, the first of something and playing against the best players in Europe. We just wanted to come out and have fun and at the same time display our talent," she said.
Stepanova finished the game with 18 points and 8 rebounds for Europe, while Le Dréan added 15.
Grace Daley led the Rest of the World with 18 points.