|The core of the Sony Athinaikos team is largely unchanged from last year and these players are determined to defend their EuroCup Women title|
By Jeff Taylor
Do not under any circumstances, if you are an Elitzur Ramla coach, player or fan, believe that a 15-point, first-leg triumph in Israel over Sony Athinaikos has all but put your team into the EuroCup Women Final.
A tough second leg awaits Ramla in Athens on Thursday against the defending champions, just as Arras will have a real battle on their hands when they take a one-point lead to Chevakata in Russia.
In the first legs of the Semi-Finals, there have been huge scoring runs already.
Big leads mean nothing.
Who would have thought that Chevakata, leading 50-29 with 3:48 to play in the third quarter at Arras, would end up losing 67-66?
For Sony Athinaikos, it's all about learning from the mistakes of the 74-59 defeat in Israel and remembering that they are the defending champions.
"First of all, we have 40 more minutes so nothing is finished yet," Athinaikos guard Dimitra Kalentzou warned.
"For sure the aggregate of 15 points is a disadvantage for us, but I trust my team and my teammates a lot.
"I don't think that we are going to repeat the bad performance of the first game."
The Elitzur Ramla victory last week wasn't really a surprise, but the margin of the triumph was, along with the way Athinaikos played late in the contest.
Athinaikos fell behind 18-5 in the opening frame and the deficit grew to 29-15 with 3:31 to go in the second quarter after a Le'Coe Willingham lay-up.
The Greek side reeled off eight consecutive points to close the gap to 29-23, a spurt in which Kalentzou buried a three-ball and fellow Greece international Olga Chatzinikolaou handed out two assists and made a lay-up.
But a Tanasha Wright lay-up for Ramla took their lead back to 31-23 at half-time.
In the third quarter, instead of chipping further away at the deficit, Athinaikos lost ground.
|Experienced Greece international Dimitra Kalentzou is convinced the second leg is going to be completely different to the first game in Israel|
After an Ana Baletic shot from the arc for Athinaikos cut the deficit to 39-34, Wright went to the other end and drilled a three-ball.
She then gave excellent Athinaikos defender Chatzinikolaou a taste of her own medicine by swiping the ball, and Ramla's Shay Doron ended up getting a three-point play shortly after.
Ruth Riley replied with a three-point play for Athinaikos, but a Willingham lay-up and a three-pointer by Rivi Grinboym stretched the lead back to 50-37.
When Willingham made two free-throws with 1:06 to go in the frame, the Elitzur Ramla fans were beginning to celebrate because their team had a 52-38 advantage.
Athinaikos played their best, and worst basketball in the last 11 minutes of the game.
They closed the third quarter with a basket by Riley, two Aikaterina Sotiriou free-throws and an Iouliti Lymoura lay-up.
Riley finished the 8-0 run with another lay-up to start the fourth to trim the deficit to 52-46.
When Latoya Davis made a lay-up to cap another 8-0 run with 6:24 to play, Athinaikos were only behind 58-56 and the Greeks also had the momentum.
Ramla coach Adan Inbar then watched his team rev up the defense and they seized the initiative once again.
Kalentzou had the ball stolen by Willingham, who shortly after grabbed an offensive rebound off a Doron miss and scored on the put-back.
After a Chatzinikolaou turnover, Kalentzou missed a three-ball and then Doron hit a jumper to give Ramla a 62-56 lead with 4:32 to play.
The visitors would go on to make five turnovers, contributing to a 12-1 run for the hosts that put them on top, 74-57.
A Lymoura jumper reduced the arrears to 15 points by the end of the game but the Athinaikos players walked off the court with a stunned look on their faces.
"The problem was the combination of the (Ramla) defensive pressure and our bad game," Kalentzou said.
"The worst thing was our last four minutes.
"The aggregate was two points and from our mistakes, it went up to 15."
Expect a different game in Greece, Kalentzou says.
"We will play at our home and we want to go to the Final again," she said.
"I am sure that our fans will support us and they will be our sixth player."