By Paul Nilsen
The sands of time are ebbing away for play-off hopefuls Cras Basket Taranto who must contemplate the prospect of a do-or-die scenario.
For the Italian club knows they will have to do it the hard way and dig themselves out of a serious hole with the last few games in Group C coming against three of the top four teams - starting with a home clash against leaders Wisla Can-Pack.
Currently bidding to overhaul Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomeration in the race for a top five finish while simultaneously fending of the slim threat posed by Gospic, EuroLeague Women has proven an uphill struggle this year.
Most galling for CB Taranto is that they actually started the campaign in positive fashion with two wins from their first three games. But, a four game losing streak straight after their bright opening has led to them being on the back foot and playing catch-up ever since.
The big positive heading into this week's huge game against the visitors from Krakow is that the hosts top the Italian league and shot down title rivals and fellow EuroLeague Women competitors Beretta-Famila Schio on the road over the weekend with an excellent 65-52 success.
As for Wisla-Can Pack, they have probably not been given enough credit for their performances this season and the terrific heart they have shown during a campaign which has seen them lose some of their key performers for long periods.
Yet despite this, they lead Group C with the team really coming together to pull out some tough wins including a tight 64-58 home success against CB Taranto earlier in the campaign.
Many players have really stepped up in the absence of others. A prime example is Milka Bjelica who has played some of the best basketball of her career this season during a crucial time when the team was without the influential Ewelina Kobryn.
She is still leading Wisla in rebounding and claimed a double-double of 16 points and 12 boards in the first match-up with the Italian club while also grabbing a super six steals.
Despite those strong showings she still insists there needs to be further improvement.
"I think we are doing well enough for the moment and of course I'm happy that we have the first position in our group.
"But, I do think we still have a lot of space for improvement and to find even better form.
"I really hope we're going to play better and better moving forward."
"As for me personally, it's good for this moment but I will also be doing my best to make my game better and to help the team hopefully move to 10 and 2 this week.
"I think we just need to be smart in this game because we're going to have a lot more of these tough types of situations ahead of us."
The sentiments of Bjelica are echoed by Anke De Mondt who of course knows only too well what is required to finish top of the podium having been crowned a champion at the Final Four last year with Perfumerias Avenida.
"I think we our doing great so far with only two losses in EuroLeague Women and only one in the Polish league." she commented
"Even if I think we could and maybe should have won those games, you can't always win everything.
"We just have to stay focused and win when it matters because we are still first in our group and in the polish league, so I'm a happy person up until now!"
On the absence of backcourt partner Erin Phillips:
"Erin is an important player on our team but we can't think about this when we're playing and just need to concentrate on who we do have available.
"Every player has to step up and give what they can to help the team. We have a long bench and so the team is ready for these games. "
Season So Far: Cras Basket Taranto lie in sixth spot in Group C with a disappointing 4 and 7 record mainly due to a rotten run of five losses in six games during November and early December. Domestically they are in pole position to finish as the top team in the Italian league.
Wisla Can-Pack are also top of the pile in the Polish league with a 15-1 record. In EuroLeague Women, the Krakow based club has been terrific losing only one game at home (Rivas Ecopolis) and another on the road (Frisco Brno) during the campaign so far.
The Hot Hands: There's little doubt Kia Vaughn has had a stand-out rookie season in the competition having
|Kia Vaughn will face tough opposition under the basket when Taranto take on Wisla on Thursday|
averaged 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for CB Taranto off the back of a decent shooting percentage.
Ewelina Kobryn has been fantastic during the last couple of games for Wisla Can-Pack. She finally looks to be firing on all cylinders after returning from the injury which led to her missing a significant chunk of the season. She is a sensational 18 of 22 across the last two games having poured in 41 points against Frisco Brno and BLMA.
The ‘X Factors': It would seem that after the first meeting between the two teams, CB Taranto rued not being more aggressive in their approach. While Roberto Ricchini bemoaned his team's lack of a killer instinct and composure in crunch time, he also pointed to the way Wisla Can-Pack was more decisive, quicker and stronger.
We have already seen the way the Polish club has managed to dictate the tempo of the game against Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje and Taranto really can't afford being dictated to - they need to be the dictators. The visitors have shot the ball well from outside and this is an area CB Taranto must be wary of.
Key Match Up: It will be a fierce battle under the basket with Bjelica and Kobryn going up against Vaughn and Elodie Godin. No team can afford the other to be dominant inside during this match-up.