|Eight games, eight wins for Anna Petrakova and Dynamo Kursk so far in the EuroCup Women. Will they brush aside MBK Ruzomberok too on their way to the semi-finals?|
By Paul Nilsen
There was the usual mix of joy and despair in EuroCup Women as eight teams punched their tickets for the last eight of the competition to set up a truly mouth-watering quarter-final series.
One thing is guaranteed this season and it is simply that a new EuroCup Women winner will take the crown of Elitzur Ramla after the defending champions crashed out of the competition.
The quarter-final line up is as follows and will see the first games being hosted by the lower seeded team on 1 and 2 February and the second game taking place on 8 and 9 February.
It had looked as if MBK Ruzomberok might pay the penalty for a poor finish to their first game of the eighth finals against Optimum TED Ankara. However they posted an excellent display in the Turkish capital as the hosts comprehensively failed to overturn the six-point deficit from their initial trip to the Slovak Republic.
MBK Ruzomberok emerged with a convincing 76-67 success to advance 147-132 and book their quarter-final spot. It was a familiar story with some sharp three-point shooting once again pivotal as they converted more than 47 % from downtown for the third consecutive game to show they are a team which poses a really potent outside threat.
They also did a great job on the glass with Swedish forward Kadidja Andersson on fire, claiming an impressive 18 points and seven rebounds while Katarina Tetemondova continues her rich vein of form with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Meanwhile beneath the headlines, the bench players continue to play a really solid role for MBK Ruzomberok and this shouldn't be overlooked. Typifying this is the likes of Zuzana Brezaniova, who continues to give the kind of efficiency and solidity a coach just loves from the supporting cast.
Of course they will find it tough against a powerful Dynamo Kursk line-up who again showed their strength in depth by allowing their bench and fringe players to finish a job which looked all but done in game one against Horizont.
The Russians cruised into the quarters by way of a 160-108 aggregate success. The Lithuanian Ausra Bimbaite played only a handful of minutes in the 78-53 game two win as Michelle Snow and Temeka Johnson had a night off and enjoyed Anna Petrakova and Ekaterina Lisina combining for 47 points.
Chevakata were another Russian club who already had more than a foot in the quarter-finals after game one and, as expected, they stormed into the last eight as they destroyed Lotto Young Cats 81-53 to make it a convincing 163-108 scoreline over the two games.
It was another tough night for the inexperienced Belgian club and sadly it ended what has been an outstanding EuroCup Women campaign for 18-year-old center Emma Meesseman who leaves the tournament having led her team in scoring (14.8 ppg), rebounding (8.6 rpg), assists (2.8 apg) and blocks (1.5 bpg).
I now wait with baited breath to see which EuroLeague Women team adds her to their bench for next season because as far as I am concerned, she is of course far from the finished product but could be a fantastic medium-term project player for a top level club to potentially mould into an elite player.
As for Chevakata, they have real all-round strength and managed to find more than ten minutes for eleven players during game two and this was all about fine-tuning ahead of their reunion with Arras.
|Olesia Malashenko's previous and current club, Arras and Chevakata, have spoiled each other's perfect record in the competition. Is this the most balanced quarter-final series?|
Both teams were in the same group during the first phase of the competition and it promises to be a blockbuster with the French side also strolling to the quarter-finals courtesy of a 55-45 home win against Basket Landes which followed on from an even bigger victory margin during game one of the eighth finals.
It has been the defence of Arras which has really made people sit up and take notice this season and after holding Basket Landes to below fifty points, they must now figure out how they can limit and even blunt the free-scoring Chevakata, especially on the road.
Arguably the biggest shock of the eighth finals came from Gran Canaria who dumped out Besiktas JK by winning both contests, their outstanding 78-61 win in game two perhaps the best performance and result of the entire EuroCup Women season.
The return of Courtney Vandersloot from her facial injury couldn't save the hosts from an already traumatic domestic season turning sour in Europe too. It was the same old story for Besiktas who again struggled to guard their opponent as Granca just repeated what they did in game one by taking it strong and being aggressive.Consequently they found themselves doing it the easy way from the free-throw line where they found themselves standing 56 times across both games.
With Dandra Moss typically influential and young gun Astou Ndour again powerful, her Spanish youth team-mate Vanessa Ble certainly chose a good time to have her best game of the season. The 20-year-old posted a double-double of 11 points and 14 big rebounds as Besiktas toiled.
It's Turkish opposition again for Gran Canaria in the last eight after Botas dodged a bullet when USO Mondevile allowed a glorious opportunity to progress to slip through their fingers.
Up by 11 points after game one and only trailing 70-66 with just over three minutes left of game two, the French club disintegrated in a nightmare finish as Botas finished with 12 of the last 13 points in the game to seal the deal in front of over 2,000 jubilant fans.
Perhaps a sizeable 15 defensive plays made up of 10 steals and 5 blocks made all the difference as did a notable cameo by Noel Kuin which was in stark contrast to her contribution on the debut in France.
She recorded a priceless 11 points in 13 minutes from four of five floor shooting as Botas dug themselves out of a sizeable EuroCup Women hole to advance.
Kayseri Kaskispor really had to weather the storm and maybe even get a little fortunate as they ended the participation of champions Elitzur Ramla who crashed out despite having the best field goal percentage in the competition and the second most steals per game.
While it might sound like success at each end of the court, it's only the results that matter and the Israeli champions contributed to their own downfall in a nail-biting finale as they lost their composure to eventually win 70-64 but fall short 143-139 on aggregate.
They had been 70-59 to the good with a minute remaining and this meant holding the lead in the tie. But, a disastrous finish saw them turn the ball over twice on crucial possessions - perhaps slightly ironic since their opponent had a massive tally of 23 turnovers in the game!
Kayseri Kaskispor will of course be delighted to advance although a potential lack of depth may be an issue moving forward since notably only six players participated for all but one minute of the game. Very much an interesting dimension to consider should injury or foul trouble affect them against Hainaut Basket.
The French club had little trouble hanging on and indeed adding to their six-point advantage from game one against Dexia Namur as they prevailed 146-122 in what was a historical win for the club who will fancy their chances of making the semi-finals.
Dexia Namur meanwhile are a young team for whom this season was a real learning curve and EuroCup Women fans will have enjoyed monitoring the progress of rising star Hind Ben Abdelkader.
Despite being only 16 years old, she averaged more than 25 minutes per game and signed off in style with her first double digit score of the season. I am sure there is much more to come from a player definitely worth keeping a close eye on in forthcoming seasons.