|Sonja Petrovic had 11 rebounds in the first game in Russia, when Sparta&K thrashed Galatasaray 66-40|
By Paul Nilsen
Back in October when everyone was speculating as to the season ahead, it would have seemed inconceivable that after just six weeks of action, these two clubs would have already racked up six defeats between them and astonishingly, not managed a single success on the road in a combined six attempts.
Then again, perhaps the respective record of both teams away from the comfort of their respective homes merely underlines just how competitive EuroLeague Women is becoming.
Consequently it is pretty difficult to assess this game on the basis that Galatasaray Medical Park have lost their last three games on the road but are now back where they like to be while Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje have been in super form on their own court but are also yet to win on their travels.
Should this trend continue then surely it will be Galatasaray having the last laugh when the final buzzer sounds but it doesn't look to be straight forward. The pressure of performing now rests firmly on the shoulders of the home team since any excuses about tough road trips have evaporated.
Of course this is not what it was supposed to be like for the hosts of this game. They were under pressure to deliver and keep pace with fierce rivals Fenerbahce during the summer and genuinely looked to have put a roster together capable of doing their club proud.
While not exactly dripping with quite as many star names, they still looked to have put together a team that was capable of a serious challenge in the Group and perhaps even beyond.
That notion has been shattered and they are now fighting for their lives and languishing outside of the top four in Group C. However, the season is still salvageable. Another defeat today and their hopes could be left hanging by a thread although a loss would not be a fatal blow with two further home games still remaining albeit against the classy Halcon Avenida and an unpredictable USK Prague.
Opportunity nevertheless knocks for Galatasaray. This game is a chance to put three woeful weeks behind them and dramatically shift the momentum of their entire season while also laying to rest the ghost of their pitiful performance in Moscow.
As for the visitors, well they were always going to drop down a level ever so slightly after the changes to their roster and resources during the summer. They still do have Sue Bird to add later in the tournament and of course are ram packed with talent.
Worryingly they also have Lauren Jackson finding form and Epifaniya Prints a revelation and on fire right now. Will the reigning champions really lose a third game on the road and remain winless on their travels? It is a question on Galatasaray can answer - and it is a tough one.
Previous Meeting - Galatasaray Medical Park were thrashed 66-40 in a nightmare showing in Russia back on the second week of the season.
The Form - The home team have won two and lost four games so far and are lying fifth in Group C while domestically, they lie in joint second place. Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje are 4-2 and in second place in the Group while they sit in second place domestically behind UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Perimeter & Penetration - Galatasaray have not been delivering to their potential in the backcourt, that's for sure. Donneka Hodges is a much better player than the currently galling 22.5% field goal percentage she has produced, mainly because she is an eye watering 1 of 19 this season from the perimeter and an upturn in form is essential as far as she is concerned. Seimone Augustus has been solid rather than the spectacular which is probably required to dig the team out of their slump and has averaged 12.7 points to provide the main thrust. Isil Alben meanwhile has averaged 3.5 assists and shot the ball pretty well from outside and ditto for Tugba Palazoglu but perhaps there is an exciting spark and aggression missing at the moment. In stark contrast, Epiphanny Prince is the heartbeat of the backcourt for the visitors and in sensational form while Ilona Korstin and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota have all been solid enough although Noel Kuin is perhaps still warming up and hasn't quite had her usual numbers from outside.
In The Paint - Lauren Jackson is really beginning to shift through the gears right now and even if the hosts match up with her, she is regularly stepping outside and draining triples to remind us she is truly world class. Thankfully for home fans they have the super Sylvia Fowles to provide a real boost in the paint. Irina Osipova and Jelena Milovanovic will provide a solid base for the visiting team while Bahar Caglar, Ginatre Petronyte and Melisa Can will do the dirty work on the glass for Galatasaray.
The Hot Hands - Lauren Jackson comes into the game as the reigning Player Of The Week while Epifaniya Prints has been one of the best and certainly one of the most consistent players in the tournament this year. Active across a host of categories, she really does have plenty in her locker and the full suite of skills. Meanwhile it really has been slim pickings for the home team with only Syl Fowles even remotely near being included in this category with her season double-double although things could have been even better had she shot the ball better from the line.
|Sylvia Fowles will have a lot of work against the complete Sparta&K frontline, says Galatasaray coach Ceyhun Yıldızoglu|
The ‘X Factors' - Galatasaray Medical Park just don't seem to have the explosive kind of penetration to match their rivals in this group and to offer what Prints does offensively. They have been too one dimensional and to have any chance they really have to play excellent defence as they don't have the firepower or diversity within their offensive options to really get involved in a shoot-out. Just 63 points per game tell the story of the season to date. They have been poor finishing inside but incredibly, the visitors have been even worse. Therefore the key to this game is how the home team defend the perimeter as Sparta&K MR. Vidnoje have shot the ball pretty impressively from outside for most of the season. The scouting report surely reads - make them put the ball on the floor but control the penetration of Prints. They need to step up their defence! too and try to get some easy buckets in transition - something sadly lacking this season.
Rising Star Watch - Many fans will be disappointed to see former Young Player Of The Year Ginatre Petronyte get handed only 10 minutes per game this season when she was initially paraded as someone who would be central to the team. Still only 21 years old there is plenty more to come from her if given the opportunity and she is fully fit and can find some form. Incidentally she was perhaps the only player to come out of the first game in Moscow with any credit by claiming 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes. The visitors meanwhile have a string of 21 year olds in Jelena Milovanovic who has had a really solid start, Sonja Petrovic who is slowly coming back from yet another injury blow and Russian frontcourt duo Nadezda Grishaeva and Natalia Vieru who are grabbing minutes whenever they can.
Did You Know? - Galatasaray Medical Park have the worst field goal percentage in the entire tournament at just 40.1%.
Fighting For Fitness - No major players are likely to be missing due to injury, but Dürdane Gümüsay is out of action until after Christmas with a foot injury.
What They Say
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje coach Pokey Chatman:
"As everyone knows, the Galatasaray game will be a huge challenge. Despite their record, everyone knows this is a very good team, especially at home. We expect their leaders in ‘Mone' and ‘Big Syl' to have their squad ready to do battle.
"We will try to continue building momentum defensively (as a unit), since we know it will take a huge defensive effort to contain the transition and half-court attack of Galatasaray. We've enjoyed success at home, but haven't faired well on the road so far. We're hoping we can change that trend."
Galatasaray Medical Park Head Coach, Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu:
"We all know the potential power of our opponent. Maybe they have some problems compared to the previous year but they are the current champions, are well-regarded stuff and have worthy players like Lauren Jackson, Ilona Korstin, Anete Jakobsone-Zogota, Sonja Petrovic and Jelena Milovanovic.
"In Moscow they were especially motivated because of the Shabtai Kalmanovitch anniversary. We had problems defending their pick and roll and couldn't play as a team. They really deserved to win. Now we are a strong team mentally and I believe that the things will be better compared to the first game. My players also agree with me.
"We will give our hundred percent to win and do our best. We had an advantage at the beginning of the group phase. The opponents came to our home and we won against them. Then the road games started and you know the story. We have match-up problems against the other teams in Group C. We can only have the advantage on five. Epifaniya Prints (1.78 cm.) and Noel Kuin (1.83 cm.) have taken the advantage of their height against us. Sonja Petrovic played as a three and had 11 rebounds in Moscow.
"We have accepted their superiority in the air but if we can be better team on defence and in our transition game then all the things can be different. We will have an advantage again. We are going to play three of four games at home and go to Lithuania to have the challenge against VICI Aistes Kaunas.
"Maybe we should have been more deliberate about our goals for the EuroLeague Women season because we wanted to win desperately in our first four road games. We've fallen behind by 10 points or more on every game. That fact made us de-motivate but we can still win all the games. From now on we have to show the character and this Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje game can be a fresh start for us."