|Lotto Young Cats, the youngest team in the competition, have a mountain to climb against Chevakata. The Russian club are not short of young talents either, with the likes of Olesia Malashenko on their books |
In the second part of his preview of the EuroCup Women Eighth Finals, Paul Nilsen considers the rest of the field, including defending champions Elitzur Ramla.
KAYSERI KASKISPOR (14) vs. ELITZUR RAMLA (3)
Kayseri Kaskispor has signalled its intentions to dump the reigning champions out of the competition with the recent signings of Le'Coe Willingham and Andja Jelavic. Already flying high in the Turkish League and chasing down heavyweights Fenerbahce and Galatasaray in third spot, they couldn't have signed a better person to help plot the downfall of their Eighth Finals opponent than Willingham.
The forward was part of the Elitzur Ramla team which finished top of the podium last year and she was one of the leaders in the competition. Now though, Willingham will be looking to haunt her former club with a big performance for Kayseri.
The Turkish club probably needed to add some experience and talent to their roster having crashed to three losses during the group stage. While the two defeats to Dynamo Kursk were understandable, a 30-point loss at Olimpia Grodno certainly wasn't and they will have to replicate their Turkish league form to have a shot at disposing the Israeli champions.
Croatian playmaker Jelavic is finally back healthy after a lengthy lay-off which saw her miss out at EuroBasket Women last summer and she brings a veteran know-how to the table for sure.
To date, it's been Latoya Sanders and Doneeka Hodges who have been leading the team in terms of production with the former averaging 14.8 points and 8.65 rebounds per game while the latter has added 12 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Esra Ural has been the pick of a promising young Turkish contingent on the roster with the 20-year-old showcasing her excellent skills on the glass to muster 7.7 rebounds per game.
As for Elitzur Ramla, it's been far from plain sailing since they lifted the title last year. Seen as a landmark moment for women's basketball in Israel and a potential launch-pad for the future, things went downhill with a disappointing performance by the national team at EuroBasket Women, a comprehensive defeat in the Supercup against Perfumerias Avenida and then a turbulent start to the season as Israeli players went on strike in a wrangle with league bosses.
At least in EuroCup Women, the club can reflect on having simply picked up where it left off last season in terms of results and performances. In a shorter three team group, they had little difficulty in seeing off the challenge for top spot posed by USO Mondeville and Spartak Noginsk but could find Kayseri an altogether tougher proposition.
GRAN CANARIA 2014 (10) vs. BESIKTAS JK (7)
There is no other team whose contrast in form in EuroCup Women and in their own league is starker than that of Besiktas. The club has endured an excruciatingly bad season in the Turkish league and so, not surprisingly, it has enjoyed the regular foray into European competition as a welcome relief.
However, so typical of their erratic and turbulent season, the talented Courtney Vandersloot who led the team in scoring, assists and steals sustained a fractured nose and required surgery in the United States, but should be back wearing a protective mask.
On a much brighter note, Besiktas recently made a huge signing with their acquisition of EuroCup Women and WNBA Final winner Candice Wiggins. Having stepped out for tournament winners Sony Athinaikos two season ago and with Ros Casares in EuroLeague Women before that, Wiggins knows what it takes to perform at the highest level in Europe as well as in America.
Besiktas also has huge experience with two EuroBasket Women 2011 finalists in the form of gold medal winner (with Russia) Ilona Korstin and silver medalist Yasemin Horasan whose influence was significant in negotiating the group stage with considerable ease to finish with a 5-1 record.
As far as Gran Canaria 2014 are concerned, it's all been about one player this season -the phenomenally talented teenager Astou Ndour. The 1994 born player has exploded this year with an astonishing series of performances which have belied her tender age. She has averaged a stunning season double-double of 17.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
One of the most exciting and promising teenagers in world basketball, Ndour is seeking to enhance her reputation further by propelling her team into the last eight of the competition, although she can probably now expect some serious defensive attention in this match-up.
Ndour hasn't had great support and while her own shooting percentages will improve as she matures, this generally young team has struggled to convert opportunities and has the worst team shooting percentage of all clubs who have made the last sixteen.
While Dandra Moss has averaged over 19 points per game, her shooting percentage is less than 29%. In fact, both Ndour and Moss has taken well over half of the shots for their team so far in the tournament and so it isn't exactly rocket science for Besiktas defensively.
|Besiktas's league form has been erratic so far, which is one more reason for the Turkish club to want to make the most of their participation in the EuroCup Women|
In the Spanish league, the Canary Islanders are safely mid-table with a 6 and 7 record.
LOTTO YOUNG CATS (13) vs. CHEVAKATA (4)
Lotto Young Cats of Belgium have a mountain to climb against Chevakata who, even if their group wasn't the strongest, have looked impressive so far in EuroCup Women aside from a solitary loss at Arras.
In the Russian league, Chevakata are having a very strong season and are 6 and 4, sat tied up level with EuroLeague Women participants Nadezhda which further highlights the quality they have. They come into this week's action brimming with confidence having destroyed fellow EuroCup Women side Dynamo-GUVD at the weekend.
Ironically, the Young Cats played Dynamo-GUVD twice in the previous round.
Both Svetlana Makhlina and Yuliya Kiseleva have enjoyed rock solid seasons so far with the former shooting the ball well both inside and out and the latter excelling on the glass and finishing well around the hoop.
Promising 20-year-old Ukrainian prospect Olesia Malashenko, who played in the final last season with Arras, is flourishing in her new surroundings and she is also making shots from downtown with superb consistency. This has been a big bonus for head coach Olga Shuneykina.
Lotto Young Cats are a club which certainly lives up to its moniker with a number of fantastic teenage talents, a few of whom will undoubtedly move on to even bigger and brighter things in their respective careers.
The stellar contribution of 18-year-old Emma Meesseman has been the highlight with the center leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocked shots. She is surely a EuroLeague Women player in waiting and while she can probably finish even more efficiently around the basket, her numbers are great, taking into account her age and the lack of experience around her.
Meanwhile the likes of 17-year-old Antonia Delaere has produced some really nice cameo performances and showed some nice maturity in her shot selection and if she can uplift her perimeter game a little more then, whatever happens, she will be able to reflect on an impressive second season in the competition.
The biggest challenge for Lotto Young Cats is likely to be competing on the glass since they aren't a big rebounding team and they simply can't afford to give a team who averages more than 80 points per game too many second chances.
With the Russian club are not exactly lighting it up from outside so far, stopping their inside threat will be the key to this game if the Belgian club stands any chance of causing an upset.
MBK RUZOMBEROK (9) vs. OPTIMUM TED ANKARA (8)
It's perhaps the case that MBK Ruzomberok has not received enough credit for their performances so far but they will certainly get plenty if they manage to secure a quarter-final berth by overcoming Optimum TED Ankara.
The Slovak team has shot the ball better than anyone in the competition from outside and is the only team to have averaged over 40%. Much of this has been due to the excellent performances of Carmen Guzman, Kamila Stepanova and Katarina Tetemondova. Shooting guard Guzman is the leading scorer in the competition with 23 points per game and has shot over 46% from behind the three-point line.
Stepanova is continuing to give Czech Republic national team boss Lubor Blazek food for thought with some terrific displays which might yet catapult her to the fringes of the team for London, although she does have a tough task with an already stacked frontcourt. Tetemondova is also having arguably the best season of her career with an impressive 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in addition to showing a sweet shooting touch from downtown.
MBK Ruzomberok lost twice on the road in their three games away from home but did claim a terrific victory at Basket Landes so they will have the belief they can win in Turkey if necessary.
Standing in their way is an Optimum TED Ankara team who are mid-table in the Turkish league and has shown they certainly know how to find a way to win in EuroCup Women, as their 5 and 1 record in the competition so far suggests.
They have managed to emerge victorious in relatively tight affairs with three successes by seven points or less during three of their games. Clearly the influence and experience of Turkey national team player Gulsah Akkaya and fellow veteran Demya Walker has been instrumental since both have played pretty well so far.
Matee Ajavon leads the team in scoring but hasn't shot the ball as well as she probably would have liked, while the promising 20-year-old Ozge Yavas is enjoying playing more minutes than ever before and contributing impressively in what is actually her rookie season in European competition.
The biggest statistical difference between the teams is in the assists category with MBK Ruzomberok managing to average seven more per game but, overall, both teams look to be relatively well matched on paper and we will soon find out whether this is the case on the court too.