|Jelena Milovanovic came from the bench and helped Sparta&K turn around the game with her perfomance on both ends of the court|
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje stunned hosts UMMC Ekaterinburg in the opening game of the 2011 EuroLeague Women Final Four on Friday.
Winners of four consecutive titles, Sparta&K trailed 31-22 early in the second half but then hit their stride and stormed to a 54-43 triumph.
Sparta&K have defeated UMMC for the fourth consecutive year at a Final Four and stayed on course for a fifth consecutive EuroLeague Women title.
They will face the winner of the second Semi-Final between Ros Casares and Halcon Avenida for the European championship.
Epiphanny Prince led a balanced Sparta&K attack with 13 points while Jelena Milovanovic had 12, most of them coming when Pokey Chatman's team took control.
Evergreen Sparta&K center Taj McWilliams also had an MVP type performance with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
UMMC appeared to be cruising when Olga Arteshina, the MVP of UMMC's Russian Cup win this season, hit a jumper for a 31-22 advantage two minutes into the third quarter.
The hosts then lost their way.
Russia international Irina Osipova, who has been with Sparta&K for every one of their European titles, started the comeback with a jumper and Milovanovic then followed with another for her third and fourth points of the contest.
Noelle Quinn scored her first two on a fast break to reduce the arrears to 31-28.
Candace Parker was called for travelling and 40-year-old McWilliams, who only joined Sparta&K in January as a replacement for injured Lauren Jackson, split a pair of free-throws to make it a two-point game.
UMMC's offense ground to a halt.
As they continued to miss shots and turn the ball over, Sparta&K took advantage.
Quinn buried a jumper to knot the game at 31-31 and then hit another to put her team in front.
Milovanovic made it 13 unanswered points with another jump shot as Sparta&K led 35-31.
The arena was silent.
Parker stopped the rot by making one of two at the line, but Sparta&K had the final say in the third quarter.
With the game clock winding down, Milovanovic missed from behind the arc but Prince chased the ball down in the lane and released a jumper right before the buzzer sounded.
The ball fell through the hoop, hitting nothing but net, for a 37-32 lead.
Sparta&K, having trailed by nine, found themselves on top by five with 10 minutes to go.
UMMC began the last frame well with a Pondexter tip-in but Milovanovic, a big signing last summer from MKB Euroleasing Sopron, replied with a jumper.
Russia international captain Maria Stepanova scored again for UMMC but Prince answered immediately with a jumper.
The closest UMMC would get the rest of the way was two points with 6:30 left.
Arteshina reached in and stole the ball from McWilliams, and that led to a basket by Stepanova.
Ilona Korstin split two free-throws and Milovanovic and McWilliams followed with jump shots.
When McWilliams added another tip-in, the advantage was 48-39 with 2:32 to go.
Chatman's team ended up winning by 11.
What sort of afternoon was it for UMMC?
The team that was supposed to win the title in the opinion of many missed all 13 shots they took from long range.
They were just 20 of 67 from the field overall and three of seven at the free-throw line.
Sparta&K also out-rebounded them 46-39.
Parker had 11 points and nine rebounds but it wasn't nearly enough for Ekaterinburg as they experienced another painful EuroLeague Women setback to their rivals.
Sparta&K M. R. Vidnoje Head Coach Pokey Chatman:
"You saw two teams, they are both strong, and know each other very well. Before half-time UMMC played well, but in the second half we changed our defense, played zone defense, managed to dominate the court, and were lucky to win. Our players have made a great job."
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje player Sue Bird:
"We are really happy that we have won this game. UMMC is a very strong team, so it was not easy for us to beat them. According to the statistics, the score is not big, and the shooting percentage was low. But as soon as we started, nobody could stop us. The EuroLeague Women Final Four is not over yet, we have an important game to play."
UMMC Ekaterinburg Head Coach Gundars Vetra:
"I cannot but agree with Deanna, we are very much disappointed now. We played very well in defense, especially in the first half, and controlled the pace. After half-time the opponents changed their defense, they started to play zone defense, one-to-one, slowed us, and we failed to find right decisions on the ground. Our offense lacked confidence, and influenced the defense."
UMMC Ekaterinburg player Deanna Nolan:
"We are very disappointed. We hoped this year the prize will be ours. We played well in the first half, but in the second we missed the shots we are usually good at and made many mistakes."