The time has arrived for 14 teams to battle it out for the seven coveted places alongside hosts UMMC Ekaterinburg at next month's prestigious EuroLeague Women Final Eight.
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje (2) are great rivals of UMMC and former four-time title winners. They finished an impressive regular season campaign by winning Group A and will now match-up against Municipal Targoviste (15) who will have to complete a huge upset against the leading scorers in the competition in order to make it through.
Ironically, some of their success has been attributable to a Sparta&K player in the form of young Russian center Ksenia Tikhonenko, who has been on loan with the Romanian club, having played with Sparta&K at the Final Eight in Istanbul last year.
Gabriela Marginean represents the best chance Targoviste have of causing what would be one of the biggest shocks in EuroLeague Women history, against opponents full of seasoned national team players and who rely on their strength in depth to win games, rather than one or two marquee players. Targoviste will also certainly need to take better care of the ball having spilled it more times than anyone else.
The other two clubs who have been touted as favourites along with Ekat and Sparta&K are also great rivals. Istanbul heavyweight duo Fenerbahce (3) and Galatasaray (4) will go up against Uni Györ (14) and ZVVZ USK Prague (13) respectively.
Fenerbahce lost in the Turkish League at the weekend and that may serve to sharpen their focus against a Györ team who will do well to compete in the paint against the likes of Ivana Matovic, Anastasiya Verameyenka and also Ieva Kublina who left Györ last month. Although notably, Fener are also the third best three-point shooting team this season, perhaps underlining the difficult job Györ coach Akos Fuzy has in coming up with a strategy to slow Fener down and therefore give his team a shot at an upset.
Galatasaray have been left rocked by the recent departure of influential point guard Lindsay Whalen. The USA Olympian opted to walk away after some alleged salary issues and Gala have turned to Lindsey Harding as a replacement. However, it's likely that until she settles into the team, they may continue to look to Turkish national team guard Isil Alben to pull the strings.
Gala do at least have the best defensive record by some distance in the tournament and will be a tough nut to crack for USK Prague who only just scraped into the post season. The one thing Natalia Hejkova and her Prague players do have is experience. They also have players in Rebekkah Brunson and Kia Vaughn who can possibly stand up to the strong Gala frontcourt trio of Ann Wauters, Sylvia Fowles and Sancho Lyttle.
|Alexandria Quigley is Kosice's second-best scorer, averaging 15.2 points per game |
Good Angels Kosice (5) have had an incredibly productive and impressive campaign, mainly through the dynamic play and devastating shooting of Allie Quigley who has posted the best season of her EuroLeague Women career. However, despite topping Group B with nine wins from twelve games, Kosice lost their last regular season game and as a result, now face Perfumerias Avenida (12). The Salamanca club have some real momentum and confidence, having beaten tournament favourites UMMC Ekaterinburg during recent weeks, something which underlines just how much of a clear and present danger they pose.
Bourges Basket (6) and Wisla Can-Pack (11) offer the prospect of a series where points could seriously be at a premium and defence may reign supreme. Each have a standout player to utilise, with Bourges able to call upon recently crowned FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year Celine Dumerc to inspire them, whilst Wisla have WNBA MVP Tina Charles to turn to. Bourges were engaged in one of the most intense play-off series last season when they were edged out by Rivas and this promises to be every bit as fiercely competitive.
Neither Nadezhda (7) nor CCC Polkowice (10) know what it is like to reach the EuroLeague Women season finale and therefore whoever comes out on top is likely to consider reaching the Final Eight as an extra special accomplishment. Whilst the Polish club don't have home advantage, they do have great form having won four of their last five games. They also have rookie Nnemkadi Ogwumike who is lighting it up and the likes of Laia Palau and Belinda Snell who both know what it's like to win the title. Much of the hopes of Nadezhda will rest on the shoulders of the phenomenal do-it-all Dewanna Bonnner who leads the way on points, rebounds and blocked shots.
Finally, Famila Schio (8) and Rivas Ecopolis (9) both know what it feels like to step out at the Final Eight, although only one of them will get to taste this occasion two years in succession. Both clubs have had bitter-sweet campaigns so far, suffering from injuries and inconsistency. Rivas head coach Miguel Mendez has even admitted he isn't quite sure what to expect from his team, whilst Maurizio Lasi must spark Schio back into life with the Italians having lost four of their last five games. Although he is likely to feel much better now that both Laura Macchi and Giorgia Sottana have slotted back into the team recently after being sidelined with illness and injury.