Samara lifted the first EuroLeague Women title of the club’s short history tonight after a sensational victory over Gambrinus Brno at the Final Four.
Brno, who have made 5 Final Fours in the last 6 seasons had the experience, but Samara’s star power proved too much for the Czech side, as they powered to victory in the final 5 minutes.
The Russians had to overcome a superb performance from Brno, who played fantastic basketball for 35 minutes, but struggled down the stretch as foul trouble forced their centers to the bench.
|Edwige Lawson had 16 points for Samara|
Samara’s 16-0 record going into the Final Four proved potentially intimidating, but Brno were certainly not affected by any pre-final nerves. They hit their first 4 shots of the game and jumped out to an 8-0 lead after just 2 minutes of play.
With 11 national team players on the floor, the man-to-man defense produced some tantalising match-ups, such as Taj McWilliams (USA) and Ann Wauters (BEL) inside, Jana Vesela (CZE) and Olga Arteshina (RUS) on the wings, and Hana Machova (CZE) and Edwige Lawson (FRA) at the guard positions.
While Brno got the better of all those match-ups early on, Samara started to fire on all cylinders as the opening quarter progressed.
Lawson, who won the Final Four last year with Valenciennes, was the catalyst for Samara as she had a hand in everything her side did on offense. She closed the quarter with consecutive assists to Maria Stepanova and Ann Wauters and Samara led 17-21 after 10 minutes.
But any suggestion of Samara dominance was soon put to rest by a fantastic 2nd quarter display from Brno. They regained the advantage on a Machova jump shot with 7 minutes to play and would not surrender that lead until deep into the final quarter.
As always, Taj McWilliams led from the front, and she bravely battled Stepanova, Wauters and Demya Walker under the basket.
The US center was perfectly assisted by Jana Vesela, Ivana Vecerova, Eva Viteckova and Zuzanna Zirkova, all of whom contributed to keeping Samara at bay.
“We couldn’t get closer than 5 points, and we were trying and trying and everybody was fighting to get there,” said Samara star Wauters after the game”. “But they played a very good game and that’s the kind of final you want to have at the Final Four.”
While Brno managed to hold out against the Brno assault, they were struck a huge blow when center Alena Kovacova fouled out and Ivana Vecerova picked up her 4th foul at the end of the third.
With both Brno centers on the bench, Stepanova exploited the situation perfectly. Samara had been threatening to take the lead in the opening 5 minutes of the final quarter, but it was Stepanova who provided the extra edge.
Midway through the period, the Russian national team star scored 3 consecutive baskets inside, the first of which cut the lead to 2, the second tied the game and the third gave Samara their first lead since the second quarter (63-65), sending the crowd into a frenzy.
While the momentum was with Samara, Brno were still very much in contention and had a chance to take the lead with 1:10 remaining. But Zuzana Zirkova missed 2 free
throws, and Lawson answered for Samara making 2 shots from the line and extending the lead to 3 points, 66-69.
|Taj McWilliams was selected Final Four MVP|
With 16 seconds remaining Brno needed a three to tie the game. Machova managed to get open for an attempt, but her shot was off. An offensive rebound gave Brno one last chance and after a timeout they found Eva Viteckova, whose 3-point shot was heavily contested by Stepanova and missed the mark.
“We missed those 2 free throws, they made theirs and we only had a short time to make a 3-pointer,” said Brno assistant coach Milan Veverka.
“We designed the last play for Viteckova but Machova had better position in the previous play. But they were more concentrated on defense after the timeout, and it wasn’t easy for the girls to get free for a three-point shot.”
We missed 2 centers during the last 4 minutes and our forwards had to play the center position. When you have only one center, it’s very difficult.”
For Wauters, a third EuroLeague title proved to be just as sweet as the others.
“I think if you want to win a championship, its in a game like that. It’s so exciting. We didn’t play great, but we played together until the end and I think we really deserved it.
"We wanted it a little bit more than the Czech team. I think they played a good game. But I think especially because we were at home, we really wanted to win and we did it.”
Now this team knows what a great feeling it is to win the final four and how important it is for the club and for women’s basketball."
Lawson and Wauters finished with 16 points each for Samara.
McWilliams had 16 points and 11 rebounds for Brno and was selected Final Four MVP.