By Paul Nilsen
|Australian floor general Samantha Richards has shown solid performances for Gorzow so far|
On paper, this might be considered as something of a mismatch between a bona-fide EuroLeague Women powerhouse who finished as last years runners-up and a club playing in only their second campaign at the elite level in their history.
Consequently anything other than a comfortable home win would arguably represent something of a surprise.
The good news is that Gorzow are more than capable of springing that surprise. While having won only once this season, they were in good positions to win both in Bourges and at home to the ambitious Schio. They arrive in Valencia in an upbeat mood having built on their opening Euroleague Women win last week by inflicting a first domestic defeat of the season on Wisla Can-Pack at the weekend.
That will have pleased Coach Dariusz Maciejewski who is another big bonus for Gorzow with the play-caller using all of his experiences with the Poland National Team to guide the club through this second EuroLeague Women season. Gorzow play tenacious defence and pressure the ball which is indicative of their status as a young and hungry team.
Whether their attributes are genuinely sufficient to derail the newly revamped Ros Casares remains to be seen. Barring their hiccup against Salamanca in the SuperCup the hosts have started the season very strongly and I guess that is not exactly surprising with a roster packed with established EuroLeague Women and WNBA talent.
After deciding to rebuild in the summer, there was suddenly pressure of a different kind to emerge - pressure to get it right. So far, Coach Fernandez and the players have made a great first impression and things look good but Gorzow represent a banana skin in waiting if they aren't focused on the task in hand.
The Form - Ros Casares remain unbeaten both in EuroLeague Women and Liga Femenina. They claimed wins against Nadezhda and Beretta-Famila Schio on the road and a hoime victory against Bourges Basket. They are 8-0 in domestic competition and neck and neck with arch rivals Halcon Avenida. Gorzow meanwhile have a win against Frisco Sika Brno in their last game. They lost in Bourges and were narrowly beaten at home to Schio. They have made a strong start in the Polish league and are 8-1 joint top with Wisla Can-Pack.
Perimeter & Penetration - Gorzow will rely heavily on Samantha Richards, Kalana Greene and Johannah Leedham to provide the firepower from the backcourt and on the wings. Aussie Richards will pull the strings from the point guard spot while Greene and Leedham can both do a little bit of everything with the latter a big danger from the arc. Having said that, neither have quite reached their true shooting potential in the first three games with Greene only making forty percent inside and Leedham a mediocre 36 percent from outside. Both rookie players, they will get better and for now, a large onus will be placed on Richards to get the ball to them in good positions although the guard herself can make plays and score. However the trio will have their work cut out against the main quartet of Marta Fernandez, Katie Douglas Edwige Lawson-Wade and Laia Palau. The first three are all averaging double digits with Fernandez her usual all action self, Douglas (if fit) an ever present danger, Lawson Wade providing the three-point threat and Palau orchestrating the offence.
|Rebekkah Brunson has been everything she promised so far for Ros Casares, leading the team in points and rebounds|
In The Paint - Yelena Leuchanka is a classy player who is so strong inside for Gorzow and you have to always respect anyone who is a FIBA World Championship for Women All Star. She is averaging a near season double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds during the first three games of the season although that has not been achieved as efficiently as she might have liked considering her talent level. Justyna Zurowska meanwhile has been below par this season although center Izabela Piekarska has been enjoying one of her best campaigns to date. Gorzow will come up against a Ros Casares frontcourt dominated by the irrepressible Rebekkah Brunson who is lighting it up again this year. She is helped out by German National Team star Linda Fröhlich (although she is doubtful with a back problem), WNBA champion Jana Vesela, Nuria Martinez, Cindy Lima and Ljubica Drljaca. However the other main danger in the paint this season is likely to be Nicky Anosike who returned from injury last week having missed the start of the season. While she is unlikely to make a serious impact in this game as she finds her way back to form (as evidenced by 1 of 7 against Schio) she is definitely a reference player for Ros in the medium to long term of this tournament.
The Hot Hands - On face value, Yelena Leuchanka is a candidate as top scorer and rebounder for Gorzow but read the small print and you realise she is shooting less than forty percent although this will surely get even better as the season progresses. The Gorzow hot hand therefore is arguably Izabela Piekarska who has averaged over 8 points and almost 6 rebounds in just 13 minutes this season which is terrific for any coach. There is only one true hot hand for Ros Casares and that is Rebekkah Brunson who has been awesome this season since she hot footed her way to Valencia from Taranto. Her raw power and talent are driving forces which have resulted in her claiming 18 points and almost 10 rebounds per game but as if to underline just how good she has been - she also leads the team in steals too. Not bad for a power forward!
The ‘X Factors' - For Gorzow to have a real chance of an upset, they have to obviously shoot the ball better than they have done all season which has been mediocre at very best and also hope Ros Casares have an off night - specifically Rebekkah Brunson. Importantly Gorzow are the top of the steals chart in EuroLeague Women and they have to use that to their advantage by keeping the pressure on Ros Casares. Rebounding will be as important as ever since if they allow the home team to dominate it will be a long night. The biggest factor could be the mental attitude of Gorzow. There are few more intimidating prospects in EuroLeague Women than playing Ros Casares on their home floor and if they do start falling behind they have to dig deep, stay composed and keep believing. A good start could be essential for the visitors to keep confidence levels high after last weeks win against Brno and the weekend success against Wisla Can Pack!
Rising Star Watch - While Ros Casares prefer experience on their roster, watch out for two young Polish players for Gorzow - both forwards, both called Agnieszka and both 21 years old! Agnieszka Skobel has played over 16 minutes per game so far this season in the tournament and managed a couple of baskets in each game while namesake Agnieszka Kaczmarczyk has done even better with 5 points per game in as little as 13 minutes although that was down mainly to an excellent 9 points off 4 of 5 shooting against Brno last time out.
Did You Know? - Agnieszka Skobel has scored four points in all three games she has played this season.
Fighting For Fitness - Linda Fröhlich is struggling with back spasms for Ros Casares while Katie Douglas has had a foot injury.
What They Say
FIBA World Championship for Women All Star and Gorzow main hope Yelena Leuchanka: "We had two very tough losses where I felt like we should have won but I guess you learn by your mistakes! Right now we just taking a game at a time and trying to play consistent basketball, learn from previous mistakes and win some more games. For Gorzow it's their second year in EuroLeague Women so our goal is to get out of the group! It's about taking a step at a time. For the upcoming game in Valencia, it's definitely going to be a tough one. They are a great team and are always one of the best in EuroLeague Women. Playing there is a tough place to play! Rebounding and defending are going to be the keys for the game while making shots will help! I came to the team late but we are finally finding some chemistry with each other so I think it will just get better each game!"
Experienced German National Team and Ros Casares star Linda Fröhlich:"Thus far, our season has been right on pace but we are still finding our way on the court. We are a work in progress but the good thing is that we are all professionals and genuinely want what is best for each other and the team. Gorzow will be a tough challenge for us. They are strong young talented group with a lot of fight in them. I look forward to the challenge that they present."
Great Britain and Gorzow EuroLeague Women rookie Johannah Leedham: "We recently just captured our first win in EuroLeague Women which is great for us. Our other games have been very close but we just haven't been able to pull it out down the stretch which has been a bit disappointing. Everything is starting to come together for us as a team, and I feel as though we get better with each game. Our next game is going to be a very tough challenge since Ros Casares is a great team but our own team is full of competitors so I know everyone is looking forward to this challenge."