Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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There was such a beautiful ugliness about much of what happened on a compelling first night of the post-season while crucially, each losing team showed signs they could hit back this Friday.
Yes, the ingredients are in place for an even more entertaining and fascinating EuroLeague Women night as seven teams bid to join hosts Galatasaray Medical Park at Final Eight next month.
Fine Return For Fantastic Phillips
If you want to understand the concept of beautifully ugly then look no further than the Wisla Can-Pack and ZVVZ USK Prague game. There were so many mistakes, bad decisions by the players and yet the intensity and intrigue never dipped below maximum in a real war of attrition between each team.
Wisla always looked the more likely winners after a great start but taking into account that Prague were considerably short-handed without Delisha Milton-Jones and Ilona Burgrova, I thought they showed big heart and did well to really hang around until the last few minutes. They showed a resilience away from home which hasn't always been evident.
I never truly got the sense Prague would get themselves a win but the point was, you just never know what can happen with a couple of hot hands like Eva Viteckova and Katerina Elhotova around - something I am guessing Jose Hernandez was acutely aware of.
In a terrific atmosphere created by Wisla fans, the game went as predicted with Wisla dominating the boards, Lindsay Whalen finally delivering the kind of big performance I had hoped for and of course, the return of the Erin Phillips. The versatile guard adds a certain dynamic quality to Wisla which makes them three-dimensional in comparison to when she is not on the floor and it was great to see her back after more than two months out.
Perhaps the last words on this match-up should be left to the Aussie star herself who tweeting as @erinphillips13 reiterated, "Got the 'W' in Game 1 v Prague. Game 2 Friday Away! Gonna be hard as hell!"
Absolutely and welcome back!
Bird On Song And Her Former Employers Still Shine Too
It was the easiest prediction and most sure-fire bet any of us made last year - namely that Sue Bird would come up big during the post season for her new club. In fact I feel almost embarrassed I even made the comment in the first place. She really is still such a class act - much to the relief of Ekat, who scraped past Kosice thanks to her game winning contribution.
Still in Russia and with Bird's previous club, I was seriously impressed with the way Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje put away domestic rivals Nadezhda. They shot the ball so brilliantly from outside but also did what was needed to be done on blunting the considerable offensive threat posed by Elena Danilochkina.
After a couple of close games in the Russian league, this was the first time any real daylight has been posted and the response of Nadezhda will be interesting. What really sprung to mind was just how well Sparta&K have continued evolving both last season and during the current campaign. They really do have a recipe for success and you wouldn't back against them cooking up yet another final appearance this season - one which if they managed to accomplish, would arguably be their greatest yet.
|Lauren Jackson has found her swing after a rocky start with Ros Casares|
Without fear of upsetting my friends in Istanbul, Ros Casares are looking like champions elect with every game they play and the beauty of their performance was the sheer dominance and power at key moments. After an arguably ordinary first half performance, they posted a devastating 20-0 run as they returned from the locker room. It really made a big statement against - let's face it - a team fighting for the Polish Championship and with some experience and talent.
Ros have become a team which is looking better with every minute more you watch them and they look to have so few weaknesses. But, they could still face a tricky time in the second game in Polkowice and I'm sure the Spanish team will be taking nothing for granted. It is unlikely to be a cakewalk for them.
If Ros don't get one of their big hitters going down between now and the final game of the season with an injury, it's going to take an outstanding performance to stop them or, a big off-night by Ros which are becoming more infrequent now they have seemingly found the right chemistry.
Of course Fenerbahce in particular can point to their own record as being better and I love their team but you sense Ros are edging ahead as front-runners now. That may even suit Fener in terms of handling expectation.
Victory For Valdemoro
For everyone except those of a Bourges persuasion, the winning return for Spanish legend Amaya Valdemoro with Rivas Ecopolis was something to really smile about. There are injuries and then there are injuries. A double wrist fracture was just so freakish and even just writing about it makes you instinctively wince. So, it was terrific to see her unmistakable presence back out on the floor again and boy was she at the centre of the action in a pulsating and nail-biting encounter which I thoroughly enjoyed watching. Her infectious enthusiasm and drive was important as Rivas finally turned round what was an ugly first 30 minutes where they simply failed to impose themselves.
I have to say the defence of the hosts, particularly on keeping Emmeline Ndongue away from the hoop was impressive. Players who didn't rack up big numbers on the stat sheet really earned their salaries with their interior defence, Laura Nicholls a prime example.
I did however really feel the pain of Jennifer Digbeu who I thought showed great intensity for the visitors but just spoiled her night by missing a lay-up in the closing stages which is where the game finally ebbed away from Bourges. A real shame because I really enjoyed watching her play until that moment when you could sense her frustration.
This is one of the most delicately poised series and could go either way. It's still very much a coin toss for me.
Champions On The Ropes
By late Friday night, we may be guaranteed to have new EuroLeague Women champions this season since if Perfumerias Avenida don't win on the road at Schio to force a third game, they will of course be eliminated. But all power to Schio for a fine job in game one. It's always dangerous for the favourite when teams have met each other previously (in the same group) and so it proved as the Italians silenced Salamanca thanks mainly to a great job in containing the dangerous Dewanna Bonner who wasn't allowed to get going at all. But, writing off any champion team is a foolish thing to do and especially against a Schio team who has been Jekyll and Hyde this season.
PAULBALL GAME ONE PICKS
Performance Of The Week: Tough to choose in many ways but you have to really hand it to Beretta-Famila Schio for a great win in Salamanca against the former champions and they just pip Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje for my vote this week!
The Crucial Cameo: You have to love the ‘glue' that Anna Cruz provides for Rivas Ecopolis. One of the most underrated players in women's basketball, her tireless work-rate, defence, rebounding and ability to do a little bit of everything was all on show as she put in a tough cameo performance to help her team crawl past Bourges.
Rising Star Watch: Diandra Tchatchouang played 20 minutes for BLMA in Istanbul and came away with a creditable performance. Scoring eight points from 4 of 7 floor shooting and also claiming two assists and a rebound.
Stats don't lie - Rivas Ecopolis left it late in a really uncomfortable tight home squeeze over Bourges Basket and their superb free-throw shooting of 19 from 21 proved to be crucial. Perfumerias Avenida couldn't break 30% for their shooting percentage against Schio and that is going to kill you. Finally, some of the greatest and most prolific players in women's basketball seemed to fire blanks during game one. In fact, it seems almost incomprehensible that the stellar talented and experienced bunch of Sandrine Gruda, Hana Horakova, Shay Doron, DeWanna Bonner, Raffaella Masciadri, Irina Osipova, Elena Danilochkina and Celine Dumerc could go a combined 3 of 44 on the same night in EuroLeague Women! That's a collective shooting percentage of just 6.82%! So the message to young players out there is to remember that even the best and biggest names can all have an off night - sometimes at once!