By Paul Nilsen
The riveting race for pole position in the wide-open EuroLeague Women Group A continues as the current group leaders Cras Basket Taranto head to Slovak Republic where they can expect a thorough examination of their credentials by Good Angels Kosice.
|Guard Kathy Wambe is the head of the controlled play of Cras Basket Taranto|
The Italian champions have enjoyed another solid start to the season which is only their second campaign in the competition an having beaten their opponents way back on the opening day, will be expecting a tough game as the hosts seek revenge. Cras Basket Taranto are an intriguing team.
Unlike a lot of EuroLeague Women clubs who rely on some big name players, the Italian side rely on a hard-nosed team approach. They wear teams down with their all round depth, voracious appetite for defence and by having dangers all over the floor.
Everybody contributes and that means it is hard for opponents to really focus their defence on a couple of key players and in essence, Taranto are just heard to break down and stop. The only question mark remains whether the lack of a truly big time player might catch up with them in the later stages and cost them a potential place in the last eight or even at Final Four.
It is a tough task for Good Angels Kosice but they will be confident they can bounce back from last week's defeat at Wisla Can-Pack. They know Taranto already have one road loss to their name and they do have enough firepower to trouble the visitors with their vibrant approach to the game. However the pressure is perhaps on the home team to deliver since defeat would arguably end their prospects of topping the group.
Previous Meeting - The teams met on the opening day of the season and Cras Basket Taranto enjoyed a comfortable 74-59 home win.
The Form - Cras Basket Taranto are 4-1 and sat proudly at the top of Group A having lost only once - in France against USO Mondeville. Domestically, they are 5 and 1 after six games but already have the SuperCup a tucked away in the Trophy cabinet. Good Angels Kosice meanwhile are 3 and 2 having lost on the opening day of the season at Taranto and also losing to Wisla Can-Pack last time out in our previous Game Of The Week. As usual, Good Angels Kosice remain undefeated domestically.
Perimeter & Penetration - Zuzana Zirkova being fit is hugely significant for Good Angels Kosice in the backcourt. She is averaging 16 points and 5 assists per game and is hugely influential in getting the ball down low to Dupree and Houston when mismatches occur. Katarina Hricova, Ivana Jalcova and Miljana Musovic can all step things up for the Angels although they are not game changing players like Zuzana.
Expect the class and high court IQ of Belgian Kathy Wambe to shine in the backcourt for the visitors while the return of Michelle Greco from her thumb injury is a big boost as she will also help to pull the strings along with Angela Gianolla coming off the bench. Jami Montagnino had an explosive rookie season last year but as so often happens, has found the second year more tough with opponents keying in on her. She is shooting way below her best and at sub thirty percent, will be hoping the team can get her open a little more. The team have also been looking inside a lot more too so her minutes have suffered as well.
In The Paint - Candice Dupree and Charde Houston will continue to lead the way for Good Angels
|Comeback queen Candice Dupree is again leading the way for the Good Angels|
Kosice and provide the main offensive threat. Without Zirkova they carry a heavy burden and also might not get the ball in the right spots on the floor quite as often as if she is in the line-up. Dupree has the raw aggression that you have to love, a real ‘in your face' approach and while always effective, she is due a major performance some time soon. Lucia Kupcikova will also provide some good support for the duo. They have their work cut out against an in-form Taranto frontcourt with three players really excelling right now. Brooke Smith is having an excellent first season in EuroLeague Women while Megan Mahoney is just doing it all for her team right now, especially defensively. French star Elodie Godin meanwhile is averaging a near season double-double with a rock solid and impressive 9 points and 9 rebounds per game. In fact the trio are responsible for a combined 35 points and 25 rebounds per game. You can also throw in the added experience of Sara Giauro and Dubravka Dacic into the mix too.
The Hot Hands - While Taranto rely on their all round team approach and strength in depth rather than any so called marquee players as with other clubs, Megan Mahoney is arguably the kingpin for the team so far. She is contributing all over the floor in terms of her offensive production as leading scorer, her efficient rebounding ability to dish up an assist while most impressively of all, her anticipation and quick hands continue to get her almost 3 steals per game. While for Good Angels Kosice, Houston, Dupree and Zirkova are almost all equally liable to have the hot hand on any given night in this competition.
The ‘X Factors' - Aside from the obvious in terms of the health of Zirkova, you have to think that the home team have to somehow avoid being worn down by the all-round depth of Taranto. Competing well on the glass will be imperative and it is noticeable that the visitors have struggled badly from the perimeter so far. With that in mind I expect Kosice will pack bodies in the paint defensively and perhaps pick their poison of giving up a little more outside than usual. After all, the inside finishing of the Italians is reliable whereas this season their perimeter play has been poor. Having said that, with a shooter like Montagnino due a big game, it will be a long night for the hosts if Cras Basket Taranto get hot on both sides of the three-point line!
Rising Star Watch - Both teams generally rely on experience so there is little to anticipate as far as rising talents are concerned.
Did You Know? - Cras Basket Taranto are the best defensive team in EuroLeague Women this year by quite some way - a massive 8 points in fact. They have only given up 53.8 points per game and the next best defensive team are Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje who give up 61.8!
Fighting For Fitness - Zuzana Zirkova is again doubtful having missed the game last week in Krakow against Wisla-Can Pack.
What They Say - Cras Basket Taranto shooter Jami Montagnino, "We are in a different kind of group this year than we were last time. This year, it seems like every team is really strong at home and can beat anyone else in the group on any night. I think it will come down to which team can perform well consistently and pull out the most wins on the road that will lead to a first place spot in our group. Kosice played very well at our place and we feel that they are the team to beat especially on the road. I've heard so many things about how tough it is to play there. We are looking forward to the challenge, however."
Good Angels Kosice play-caller Stefan Svitek, "We are going to play the match against the leader of Group A and we are aware of their qualities. Actually, it can be said, that we were easily defeated by this team in our first match, which we played in Taranto. We are going to play against a really good team, which consists of skilled players with a big amount of experience, but we will try to take advantage of homeland. Despite this, we are going to play aggressively and we want to use the opportunity, because we are have been able to play some really good matches recently."