UMMC Ekaterinburg held on to beat CSKA Moscow 94-90 on Friday to reach the EuroLeague Final Four and complete one of the biggest shocks in the competition in recent times.
Ekaterinburg, champions in 2003, ended a three-year streak of semi-final appearances by CSKA who before this week had not lost a game this season in Russia or Europe.
|Yelena Leuchanka had 12 rebounds to go with 14 points for Ekaterinburg.|
They were also a hugely impressive 22 of 25 (88%) at the free throw line.
Ekaterinburg's moves to strengthen their roster after the regular season also paid dividends again with French guard Caroline Aubert a perfect two of two from behind the arc and Belarus international Yelena Leuchanka pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds to go with her 14 points.
In some ways, though, this upset will have surprised no one.
Ekaterinburg had sent out a warning to the rest of Europe about their designs on returning to the top in the close season when adding a `who's who' list of international stars.
The team added some French flair by appointing former US Valenciennes coach Laurent Buffard and France center Sandrine Gruda - the 2006 FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year.
And Ekaterinburg added championship experience by signing Penny Taylor and Kristi Harrower, two key ingredients in Australia's FIBA World Championship winning side in 2006.
After upsetting CSKA earlier in the week, Buffard said if his team played that well again, there would be no stopping them back in Ekaterinburg and he proved to be right.
Ekaterinburg led by as many as 12 points in the first half at 45-33 but took a 45-39 lead to the break.
They enjoyed their biggest lead late in the third quarter when a Leuchanka three-point play gave them a 62-48 advantage.
With the game about to get out of hand for CKSA, Nicole Powell and Amaya Valdemoro hit back-to-back three-pointers, Edwige Lawson-Wade scored with a tap-in and Maria Stepanova made a jump shot.
Rebecca Hammon followed with a three-point play to complete the 13-0 spurt and leave Ekaterinburg wobbling with a 62-61 lead.
Ekaterinburg always had an answer, though.
Bibrzycka's three-ball stopped the rot for them at the end of the period, but at the start of the fourth Powell again connected from behind the arc to make it 65-64 in favour of the hosts.
Taylor responded with a three-pointer, only for Lawson-Wade and Stepanova to score buckets and tie the game at 68-68.
After an Aubert basket for Ekaterinburg, Hammon struck from long range to give CSKA their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Aubert showed her quality again by nailing a three-ball before Stepanova replied with a basket to leave the game knotted at 73-73 with 6:28 to go.
With 5:19 to go Aubert, the winner of the three-point shooting contest at last year's All-Star Event in Valencia, came good yet again to put the hosts back on top 76-73 and this time, they stayed in the lead for good.
Hammon did keep CSKA's hopes alive by carrying the load offensively in the fourth quarter when she scored 16 of her game-high 24 points, but it wasn't enough to prevent another frustrating end to a EuroLeague Women campaign for CSKA.
Winners of the competition in 2005, they lost to Gambrinus in the 2006 final and bowed out against Spartak Moscow Region in last year's title game.
Laurent Buffard, Head Coach of the UMMC:
"It was a very important and serious match. We are proud of the job we've made. Everyone in our team did their best; however, the supporters helped us a lot."
Gundars Vetra, Head Coach of the CSKA:
"The fate of the series was decided in Moscow. In Ekaterinburg we played better, but the miracle didn't happen."