Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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As the curtain finally falls on the Regular Season of the EuroLeague Women, all eyes switch to the play-offs as we similtaneously wave goodbye to the clubs who didn't make it.
While the last week of action didn't provide the kind of nerve-shredding, cliff hanger situations we might have hoped for, there was still plenty to ponder and not least the changing play-off scenario which in some cases, went down to the very last seconds.
Bitter-Sweet For Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje?
This was no better demonstrated than in the case of Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje whom having claimed yet another narrow victory with a last gasp success at BLMA, set up what promises to be a particularly intense struggle against domestic rivals Nadezhda.
Had they lost in France, they might have faced Good Angels Kosice - a club they have already managed to beat twice this season in the competition.
|Simone Augustus and her Sparta&K team-mates have lived dangerously but proved they can take care of business when it matters|
Pokey Chatman and her team have posted an absolutely fascinating regular season campaign by the way. They deserve huge credit for finishing top of Group C and more than any other year I can remember, they have actually flown relatively low on the radar when it comes to making headlines. They have just taken care of business.
While I still feel they are one of the fringe teams in terms of Final Eight rather than An absolute favourite, I would not write them off because they seem to almost always find a way when they need to in some pretty tight situations. This is of course to be applauded.
The flip-side of course is that whenever a team is locked in close games on a regular basis, it's inevitable one is going to get away and it could come back to haunt Sparta&K. They are incidentally 4-1 in close encounters with their only nail biting loss coming in Madrid against Rivas Ecopolis.
Generally reliant on big contributions from two key players in Seimone Augustus and Candice Dupree this year, I can't wait to see if the former four-time champions can keep digging out the wins they need and repeat their hugely impressive run to another final just like last year.
Of the eight teams who bowed out of the competition this week, Cras Basket Taranto must surely be the most disappointed since they had every chance of making the play-offs but some heavy losses and a slump in form earlier in the season cost them dearly. Leading the Italian league, they do have the quality in their ranks to have made the play-offs and they showed recently against Wisla Can-Pack just what they can do. But, it wasn't to be and their poor form on the road, particularly the margin of some defeats proved to be their downfall.
I had to feel a little sad for Tarbes Gespe Bigorre who will go down in history as a team who failed to win a single game in EuroLeague Women 2012 and this was even more painful since they blew yet another great opportunity this week. They just couldn't get it done down the stretch in Schio and fell to their second narrow defeat in as many weeks - despite another impressive contribution by Ana Cata-Chitiga who made eight of nine from the field to finish with 16 points and seven rebounds. Interestingly Tarbes actually had the eleventh best field goal percentage in the tournament which is respectable but this wasn't even enough to get them a solitary victory. Too many turnovers were one of the real issues.
During some parts of the season, Gospic CO looked like they might flirt with a play-off place but will perhaps be ruing their quickness in jacking up three-pointers during games. Had resources allowed Coach Bralic another quality inside player it might have been so different. They took an incredible seven more triple attempts per game than any other team and that is a mind-boggling statistic - in particular since they were barely shooting 30% - the seventh worse in the competition. Nevertheless, five wins was still a relatively impressive return from the Croatian team who by their own admission, are one of the minnows.
|For Ana Cata-Chitiga and her Tarbes this surely will be a season to forget|
Vici Aistes had it tough and finished bottom of Group A but they can at least lay claim to having landed the biggest surprise result of Round 1 once again. Following on from their superb success against Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje last season, they managed to shoot down tournament co-favourites Ros Casares this year. Despite this, I am sure the players will feel at least one or two more wins was within their capabilities - although I gues they were weakened in the latter stages by the loss of Sandra Linkeviciene who left for Ekat.
Uni Seat Gyor headed into their rookie season looking to firstly achieve aim number one - a historic victory in the tournament and they accomplished this at only the second attempt by beating Lotos Gdynia - something they repeated later in the campaign. An early season fall-out with Renee Montgomery didn't help their cause but it has been fun seeing Croatian Iva Ciglar display her passing ability once again while Quanitra Hollingsworth has been rock solid in the paint. But, I think Rita Rasheed is the one player who can look back on her first venture into EuroLeague Women waters with real pride. She is versatile, has posted some decent numbers and offered good energy.
Drawn in a tough group A, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Javier Fort and his Lotos Gdynia players. As expected it was a baptism of fire in his new role and the Spanish play-caller should be disappointed. While a double over VICI Aistes and a success against Bourges Basket were satisfying, being beaten twice by rookies Uni Seat Gyor was where the difference was between what could have been a decent season (taking into account limited resources and the quality of the group) and what was actually produced which was perhaps a little under par.
It's been another really tough year for former EuroLeague Women champion Jan Bobrovsky as his young Frisco Brno team shot a miserable 36.7% from the field this season. Hamstrung by his budget which has barely been enough to keep the club competitive, there was only one win to remember but what a victory it was as the Czech side claimed a super success against Wisla Can-Pack. But generally, it was a season to forget with the team way off the pace and regularly bullied all over the floor. Despite this, it will have provided great experience to a bunch of young players.
Finally Uniqa-Euroleasing Sopron will probably have to cast their minds way back to the second game of the season to see where things might have turned out differently. Having beaten Tarbes during the opening game, they then went down against Nadezhda in a real heart-breaker and had they won this, you do wonder if a 2-0 start might have helped them to eventually just sneak into the last play-off spot. Losing Tijana Krivacevic to Rivas Ecopolis didn't help an offence which was already struggling to put points on the board but when she moved, their chance of progressing had more or less disappeared anyway. At least a convincing win (albeit in a dead rubber game) against Schio meant they finished with a lively wag of the tail.
A sign of things to come
I am absolutely delighted to see that prolific Israeli guard Shay Doron looks to be heading to UMMC Ekaterinburg. I think she can certainly replace the scoring power of Anete Jekabsone-Zogota who went down injured and if given the right opportunity, she can definitely put points on the board. Algirdas Paulauskas has seen his team hit some real dry spells offensively this season and having someone like Doron is a potential solution although for both the club and player, it will be interesting to see if she can still produce without having the higher volume of opportunities and within the context of playing in a stacked team. I really can't wait to see how effectively Doron performs as a role player, rather than offensive option number one or two as with Elitzur Ramla and the national team.
Defending champions Perfumerias Avenida has decided to acquire the experience of Ilona Korstin who arrives from Besiktas where she has been playing in EuroCup Women. While the Russian national team star might look like butter that wouldn't melt, we all know she is one tough player and she will add some steel and versatility to Salamanca.
I doubt that Ekat or Perfumerias Avenida will be the only teams doing business before the transfer window slams shut very soon and Galatasaray Medical Park are one club who needs to desperately invest in a roster decimated by injuries. Their lack of depth was cruelly exposed by Ros Casares and expecting three players in Taurasi, Prince and Charles to have to perform at the peak of their powers to have a realistic chance of victory at Final Eight is unsustainable and realistically, not even a viable option.
In particular, they look to be in real need of a wing player or smart forward who has size, scoring power and experience. I wait with baited breath to see if they manage to identify someone who fits the bill. I can think of a few but wouldn't want to upset anybody by suggesting they are added to a Gala shopping list!
Fantastic Forty For Viteckova
|Eva Vitecková (ZVVZ USK Prague)|
There hasn't been a better display in EuroLeague Women this season (or at least from a statistical and efficiency point of view) than the one posted by Eva Viteckova for ZVVZ USK Prague in Gdynia.
A week after fellow veteran Delisha Milton-Jones grabbed the limelight with 2,500 points in the competition, Viteckova broke the record for performance rating by hitting the 40 mark thanks to the highest score in the tournament this season as she poured in 36 points.
It was also nice to see another Czech Republic legend really produce this week when Hana Horakova fired 17 points for Good Angels Kosice ironically in her homeland against Frisco Brno.
However all of this was tempered by the sad news of yet another ACL injury, this time sustained by Czech national team Edita Sujanova who is out for the foreseeable future and is likely to miss the chance of going to the Olympics in addition to the rest of the campaign with Gyor.
PAULBALL Week 14 Picks
Performance Of The Week: Reigning champions Perfumerias Avenida are a good team and no pushovers but the way Fenerbahce controlled the game to secure an 86-64 win in Istanbul to finish Round 1 unbeaten deserves huge respect. It was another excellent performance from the Turkish club.
The Crucial Cameo: Veteran Oxana Zakalyuzhnaya came off the bench and posted a really nice cameo contribution of 16 points in 21 minutes for Nadezhda in the win at CCC Polkowice with an eye catching seven of nine from the field.
Rising Star Watch: Congratulations to 18 year old Christelle Diallo of Bourges Basket. The forward scored the first point of her EuroLeague Women career with a free-throw against VICI Aistes. Meanwhile team mate Margaux Galliou returned after more than a two month absence but unfortunately couldn't find a bucket from her four attempts. Elsewhere, Barbora Kasparkova equalled her highest score in the competition with a second successive eight point haul for Frisco Brno.
Stats don't lie - 13 of the top 15 three-point shooting teams in the competition made it to the play-offs. UMMC Ekaterinburg and Rivas Ecopolis are the teams who made it to Round 2 despite shooting the ball poorly from downtown. The ten teams with the most miserly defence all advanced to the second round.