France: Palau, Bourges Set For Showdown In Pecs

23 March 2005
By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA International

Bourges star Laia Palau has grown accustomed to playing in the big games, be it for club or country.

No one will ever forget her buzzer-beating three-pointer at the Athens Olympics for Spain in their opener against the Czech Republic, a dagger which sent the game to overtime.

The Spanish eventually won to pave the way for an impressive run to the quarter-finals.

Laia Palau (Bourges)
Laia Palau
Now Palau is playing for one of the proudest clubs in Europe and oh, how fans in the hoops-mad French town would love her to do something special on Thursday at MiZo-Pecs in Hungary, when the two sides play a Game Three decider in the last eight of the FIBA EuroLeague Women.

Win, and Bourges are on their way to the final four.

Lose, and Bourges fans go into mourning for a year.

Bourges fell behind early in Game One in Hungary and lost 70-61, but they hit back in style to level the quarter-final in France 61-48.

Palau is optimistic.

"It appeared impossible to win against them," Palau said, looking back at the first game, "but we took a deserved victory at home and that has boosted our morale.

"It's not going to be a walk in the park, but on the contrary, it's going to be a battle.

"The atmosphere at the pavilion in Pecs is going to be hell, they will have a lot of fans supporting them.

"But considering they are favourites, they will have the pressure to win and that can be a double-edge sword."

MiZo-Pecs played Bourges at the same stage of last year's competition, too, and clinched that series 2-0 after an overtime win in Game Two.

This year in Pecs, everything conspired against Bourges.

"We had had a difficult week prior to our first encounter because we faced Valenciennes in the league just days before traveling to Pecs," Palau said.

"We suffered a big setback because Ljubica (Drljaca) sprained her ankle during the game and that was a psychological blow for us."

Drljaca, a 1.90m forward from Serbia & Montenegro, is averaging 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds a game in Europe.

She is not available for Thursday's game, although Bourges proved they could win without her in the last contest.

"We have valid players, although her absence is a big setback," Palau said.

"But the team is playing hard and now we are more aware of our own capabilities."

Bourges will contend for honours on the domestic front, too. But a club which has won three EuroLeague crowns in 1997, '98 and 2001, is consumed by the desire for continental success.

"Our main priority is the EuroLeague," admitted Palau, who played for Barcelona last season.

"It is a dream for us to reach the final four.

"Our main strength is that we are a young team and we have plenty of energy."

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