|"We played a tight game against one of the best teams (Sparta&K) in this competition, so why not do it again," says Good Angels Head Coach Stefan Svitek |
If the basketball gods had offered a nine-win Round 1 campaign to Good Angels Kosice coach Stefan Svitek before the start of the EuroLeague Women, he would have taken it.
The Slovak club had reached the play-offs in each of the previous three years but with changes in the roster, including the loss of Candice Dupree to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje, expectations were tempered.
Nine wins in 15 games is what Svitek and Good Angels did accomplish, though.
Just once in Round 1, in a 16 November game at Lattes Montpellier, did the Slovakian club crash to a heavy defeat.
In their last seven EuroLeague Women games, Kosice won five.
They went down to a pair of three-point defeats to Wisla Can-Pack Krakow and Sparta&K Moscow Region.
"We've made a good team," Svitek said to FIBAEurope.com, "not only on the court, but the atmosphere of the team.
"In some games, we've been behind but fought back and won.
"This has shown the character of the team, that it's very good and strong."
In the home defeat to Wisla, Kosice trailed 63-56 early in the fourth quarter but hit back and took the lead with 3:06 remaining, only to fall 72-69.
In the away game at Sparta&K, Danielle McCray had scored to put Kosice in front inside five minutes but the Russian side reclaimed the lead.
Kosice attempted a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime had it gone in, but the shot wasn't close.
"In the two games against Krakow and Moscow, we were down but fought back and at the end, we had it in our hands," says Svitek.
"But maybe, because our team has less experience, it was the difference.
"We really, really showed we can win against all of these teams in our group and can win against anybody.
HANA COMES AND GOES
Svitek's squad received a serious boost in quality late in Round 1 when the club reached agreement with UMMC Ekaterinburg on a deal for the services of Hana Horakova.
The 2010 FIBA Europe Player of the Year went up against Montpellier and Brno and helped Kosice win.
Horakova was set to continue in the play-offs with Good Angels but her time with the club ended the day the Round 2 pairings were announced.
Kosice had agreed with UMMC that if they were to meet in the play-offs, Horakova could not play for Good Angels and would go back to UMMC.
Svitek says he isn't worried if Horakova does play against his team in the post-season.
"I'm not thinking about that," he said.
"We played and won most of our games without her. She was with us not even three weeks. We have to move forward, play our game and play with the girls that have been with us from the beginning."
VIERU AND McCRAY
One of the players Kosice has relied on is 22-year-old Natalia Vieru, a center who has come into her own at Kosice after playing previously for Sparta&K.
|22-year-old Russian center Natalia Vieru is developing into an important player for Good Angels Kosice, averaging 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds in the first round of the EuroLeague Women|
"We can say that she really developed her game here and is a really good player," Svitek said.
"She has had a lot of minutes on the court, always tried hard at every practice, every game and you can see how she is going with her game.
"If you have a good atmosphere, good chemistry, players like to come to practice and play hard and get ready for the game and this is very important. But not only here, there have been others to work hard here and improve their game.
"Danielle McCray is another good example.
"She played for the University of Kansas but had a serious knee injury, an ACL."
McCray played in Israel and last summer, competed for the Connecticut Sun in the WNBL.
"It's not so easy to come overseas and play as a newcomer and play in a very high-level competition as the EuroLeague is but she has shown that she maybe, she can be a star in this league one day."
THE TEAM FIRST
Svitek prefers not to talk about individual players, but rather his squad as a whole.
"If you look at the statistics, our team is the last in shooting percentage but we have still won nine games," he said.
"I think our team is top in defending, a good rebounding team.
"We show we play as a team. Every game, someone else is pulling the team offensively.
"One time Natalia, one time Lucia (Kupcikova).
"When we had Angel (McCoughtry) and Candice (in 2009-10), it was more on their shoulders offensively."
Ekaterinburg finished third in Group A and Good Angels third in Group C.
Now they will face each other in the play-offs.
Will Svitek, who was recently appointed coach of Hungary's women's team, try to make his players believe they are David going up against Goliath, or tell them they can go up against any team and believe in their chances?
"I say let's go out and cause the upset of the year," he said.
"You have to change from three to four, like when you drive a car.
"This is something that is more special, you have to play harder, it has to be special.
"You have only two or three games.
"You have to prepare the team, yourself, mentally and physically, play tough and concentrate and give everything.
"At the end, we'll see what happens. Our opponents are a strong team, but we play good basketball and we can believe in ourselves."
The games against Sparta&K and Wisla ended in defeats, but Svitek told his players they had done themselves proud.
"We played a tight game against one of the best teams (Sparta&K) in this competition," he said.
"Why not do it again?
"This showed us we can play good basketball if we play tough. Of course, you need luck and a good shooting night to have a chance against such a good team."