By Paul Nilsen
This game was always going to be a headliner in the context of the Group due to the respective quality of both rosters and of course, with the added dimension of the return to the Russian capital of Sylvia Fowles - one of the main driving forces behind the success of Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje during the last couple of seasons.
However, this game has been given added spice with the shockwaves that reverberated around the tournament after the reigning champions were shot down in Kaunas by the unfancied VICI-Aistes last week. Their misery then cruelly compounded by a domestic loss over the weekend to fellow EuroLeague Women participants Nadezhda.
Consequently this game now appears to be about how Pokey Chatman and her team will react to consecutive losses inside a week, rather than just about the return of Fowles. You can also throw the stellar talent of Lauren Jackson into the mix too with the WNBA champion back in Moscow to help spark an inevitable run to the latter stages once again. While she shot an almost unthinkable 1 of 9 against Nadezhda at the weekend, you suspect jet-lag will have played a part and she will be back on song a little more against Galatasaray.
|Everyone at Sparta&K thinks very highly of Sylvia Fowles - which is why they'd prefer it if she wasn't paying them a visit |
One factor which I think is intriguing is whether this is a game that you would want if you were a Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje player. After such a high profile loss and compounded by a domestic defeat too, is it better to face a so-called lesser team again but this time on your home-court to build-up confidence once more, or is there no better way to make a statement and confirm last week was just a blip by playing and winning a subsequent game against a classy team like Galatasaray?
Of course they don't have the choice and they have been handed the latter option. I tend to think successful teams sometimes operate better under pressure and are sometimes vulnerable to the banana-skin of playing teams who have nothing to lose and so this is actually a good fixture for Pokey Chatman to focus on. Well, if she can mastermind a win that is.
It is easy to perhaps focus too much on the hosts after what happened last week and I guess that as far as Galatasaray are concerned, this is a good early test of their credentials. I am not sure how much the home win over Tarbes GB told us. With due respect to the French side, they are more likely to be stronger at home and had the fixture been in France, this might have told us a lot more about Galatasaray. It underlined Augustus and Fowles will spearhead the challenge but that of course we already knew.
This game will be a much more accurate measurement as to how far Galatasaray can improve. Last year's fourth place group finish was maybe a little disappointing and to be fair, they were in a tough group but this season they have ambitions to improve on that and win or lose in this game I feel it is important they play strongly and show the rest of the tournament they are capable of catapulting themselves into the small but select number of teams who realistically can make a play for Final Four.
The Form - Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje head into the game having lost that opener against VICI-Aistes in Kaunas and having lost against Nadezhda in the Russian league. Galatasaray meanwhile won their ELW opener against Tarbes GB and moved to 2-0 at the weekend in the Turkish league after a hard fought 76-69 win against Mersin.
Perimeter & Penetration - Epiphanny Prince, Noelle Quinn, Ilona Kirsten and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota will be the main four going up against the Galatasaray quartert of Doneeka Hodges, Seimone Augustus, Tugba Palazoglu and Isil Alben. On paper and taking into account form, I can't see a whole lot of difference with the visitors likely to push the ball down the floor and look for more buckets in transition. I am really interested to see how Ephianny Prince performs after a great debut last week despite the loss and I wonder if she can control the tempo which might be crucial. Throw Sue Bird into this game and the balance tips firmly the way of the defending ELW champions.
In The Paint - Watching Sylvia Fowles go to work against her former team has top billing of course and she will get support from the likes of Bahar Caglar, Ginatre Petronyte and Melisa Can. Matching up with Fowles won't be easy. While for the home team, Lauren Jackson will lead the way along with Irina Osipova, Jelena Milovanovic and Irina Sokolovskaya. As with the backcourt, I can't see a lot of difference other than the magic that Jackson could possibly provide - even at less than peak condition. itp erhaps proves that neither side have any kind of significant edge over the other.
The Hot Hands - It has almost gone unnoticed that forward Irina Osipova has really stepped it up so far this year and the hard working forward is certainly one of the players who is looking to increase her influence on this Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje team. Having averaged very modest numbers in years gone by but still being an integral part of he roster due to her work wthic and dealing in intangibles, now she is increasing production and this is important. Her 15 points and 7 rebounds in round 1 of ELW were overshadowed by the result in Kaunas and she has had a couple of big games domestically so watch out for her contribution in this one.
Similarly Epiphanny Prince had 22 points and 5 assists last week which was also impressive on debut and she too is in good form and currently the top scorer on the home roster. Meanwhile as far as Galatasaray are concerned it has been the Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus show so far so they are definitely the dangerous duo for the visitors.
The ‘X Factors' - The contribution of Lauren Jackson is the deal breaker for me in this game. 99 times out of 100 it would be an insult to LJ to even think of her as an ‘X factor'. Ordinarily she would be the kind of near guaranteed stamp of class along with the likes of Fowles. However having only been back with the team a few days and not likely to be at the kind of devastating peak she reached during her sensational WNBA summer, much will rely on her shrugging off the effects of travelling back to Russia at the weekend and managing to find her groove. Even at sixty or seventy percent, she could find enough to put Galatasaray to the sword. Conversely, the strategy employed to contain LJ will be essential for Galatasaray and nullifying her potent threat would go a! long way to maximising their chances of returning home with a famous road win.
|A jet-lagged Lauren Jackson had 1 for 9 from the field on Saturday, in the Sparta&K loss to Nadezhda in the Russian League|
Rising Star Watch - Ginatre Petronyte is a former FIBA Europe Young Player Of The Year and it is easy to forget she is still only 21 and currently trying to bridge the gap betwen established rising star and bona-fide ELW senior star like Jelena Milovanovic who incredibly is the same age. That is a clash that really excites those who like to watch the evolution of younger players! Petronyte hasn't played perhaps as many minutes as many might have expected so far but you sense she will soon explode in a game.
Did You Know? - Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje have never lost successive games EuroLeague Women.
Fighting For Fitness - Sonja Petrovic missed last weeks games and continues to struggle against her injury problems while Sue Bird is still missing and won't arrive in Moscow until the New Year. Galatasaray have a full strength team to choose from minus Monique Curry of course who is the American not registered for European competition because of the inclusion of Fowles and Augustus.
What They Say
Galatasaray Medical Park center Sylvia Fowles:"I think it will be a very competitive game because we have great players and we have good coaches that we have played for. Also Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje have important names but they play team basketball. We actually have to be really worried about that. So I'm looking for challenge. As a team we want to win. You can be sure that we will play as hard as possible on Wednesday."
Galatasaray Medical Park head coach Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu: "We started great against Tarbes GB and especially we played great in the first five minutes both on the defensive and offensive sides. But then we can never be good enough on defence. When they tried changable defence we couldn't attack well against them. But at the end of the day, we won. And of course we are happy for that. If we can play like first period in the whole game we can be a great team. We have enough time to succeed with that. I trust my players because they want to solve all the problems. And they really are great players!"
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje Coach Pokey Chatman: "Obviously I was disappointed with the loss in Kaunas. And as you know with sport, we immediately analyze our mistakes, try to eliminate then the next time we take the floor and make sure we move in the right direction in terms of not repeating those same mistakes. I however will not take credit away from a hungry Kaunas team. We were out played and the scoreboard reflected this. Gala is a tough team. It's easy to look at the roster and see the talent that is prevalent at each position with the likes of Fowles, Augustus, Caglar, Petronyte, Palazoglu, Hodges, Currie, et a! l. Add to that, after watching film you can tell they're deliberate in their attack and love to get out in transition. It will be a huge task to contain their offensive prowess.
"In terms of Syl Fowles coming ‘home'? Well, with all due respect, I would feel a lot better if Syl were not coming home! As you know, she's a tremendous player and an extraordinary human being. With that being said, it will be a joy to see her and a battle to contain her. As for LJ, it's going to take a little time for Lauren to get to her level. She definitely improves the team simply by taking the court, so we'll try to maximize her ability, with the understanding she's not where she needs or wants to be in terms of her level of fitness, and comfort level joining the team only a few days ago. However she's a quick study, so we shall see."
Prediction - Losses for great teams in ELW can often become a little bit like buses. You wait so long for one to arrive and then two come at once. While that has been sort of true with the domestic loss to Nadezhda hot on the heels of the Kaunas shock, I suspect that with specific regard to EuroLeague Women, the Lauren Jackson factor surely gives the home team the edge and will prevent successive losses in this competition. I am therefore going for Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje to bounce back and edge it but having said that, Galatasaray might just smell blood in the water right now and must fancy their chances of piling on the agony. They certainly have the players capable of making it another riveting and dramatic ELW contest!