|Diana Taurasi's 25 points were needed by UMMC Ekaterinburg as Novi Zagreb proved to be a tough opponent for 40 minutes|
UMMC Ekaterinburg didn't set the world on fire with their first performance of the 2012-13 EuroLeague Women campaign but held on to beat Novi Zagreb in Russia on Wednesday afternoon.
Newcomer Diana Taurasi, who helped fire UMMC's rivals Sparta&K M. R. Vidnoje to European titles in 2007, '08, '09 and '10 and spent the last two seasons playing in Turkey with Fenerbahce and then Galatasaray, had 25 points for Ekaterinburg as they beat Novi Zagreb, 83-77.
Sandra Mandir, just a couple of months removed from making her Olympic debut with Croatia, led a spirited Zagreb attack with 20 points but Olaf Lange's squad prevailed in the Group C game.
UMMC went in front by 16 points in the first half but their opponents from Croatia fought back and twice pulled level early in the third quarter.
Courtney Vandersloot's three-pointer knotted the game for the second time at 43-43.
Taurasi went to the other end and put the hosts back in front with a three-ball of her own.
She finished three of eight from behind the arc and seven of 13 overall from the field.
Playing just one day after the announcement that Ekaterinburg would serve as hosts for this season's Final Eight, the Russians made hard work of it the rest of the way against Zagreb.
They only led 63-60 going into last frame following a jumper by Latoya Williams for Zagreb.
Sandrine Gruda caught a pass from Anna Petrakova and made a jumper to start the last period for UMMC.
Petrakova then fed Taurasi on a fast-break and the USA international nailed a jump shot.
Gruda capped the 6-0 run with another jumper, this time after a pass from Taurasi, as Ekaterinburg established control.
A three-point play by Mirna Mazic reduced the UMMC advantage to four points with less than two minutes to go but they got no closer.
Russia's Olympic forward Petrakova was outstanding on her EuroLeague Women bow with UMMC, scoring 14 points and corralling 10 rebounds.
Silva Dominguez, a EuroLeague Women winner the past two seasons with Perfumerias Avenida and Ros Casares, played 25 minutes and had 12 points with three assists for UMMC.
UMMC head coach Olaf Lange
"Obviously the best thing about the game is the result. I am happy that we started the EuroLeague Women campaign on a positive note. Still we have a lot of room for improvement especially in defense. We must work hard to shut down the opponent's fast breaks and overcome the counter attacks. One of our problems is few points in the opponent's zone. Now we face a period of team building and it's normal that we play one game really good and another one not so well."
UMMC guard Diana Taurasi
"As the coach has already said we have improvements to make. It is good that we won the game, but it is also evident that we still have some weak points to work on."
Novi Zagreb head coach Vladimir Ivankovic
"I would like congratulate UMMC for the victory. If someone had told me before the game that we will lose by 6 points, I would sigh with relief. My players demonstrated a good game full of heart and energy. I am sorry that we could not upset Ekaterinburg, but it is quite difficult to win a team of 12 superb players. You need to have a lot of heart and luck to do it. We made a few mistakes in the last quarter, but even if UMMC was the leader for the whole game, we were very close. It fills me with energy and confidence before out next game."
Novi Zagreb player Courtney Vandersloot
"UMMC has a lot of high-quality and skilled players but we showed a good team game. In order to win we had to confuse their tactic combinations, but unfortunately we could not do it. On the other hand we demonstrated a good game of our level and it makes me glad."