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Pressure Cooker Awaits Arras At Ramla

16 March 2011
EuroCup Women Final
12. Marielle Amant (Arras)
"No pressure so far" says Marielle Amant ahead of the first EuroCup Women Final on Thursday

Elitzur Ramla and Arras Pays D'Artois are nearing the end of a long journey.

The two sides are squaring off in the first leg of the EuroCup Women Finals, a competition that tipped off at the end of October, on Thursday.

When asked about his hopes before Arras' departure for Israel, coach Bruno Blier said: " A good organization, a good training and preparation the day before the game."

And he imagined what the first encounter would be like for Arras, who have had a remarkable run considering this is their first-ever season in a European competition.

"The pressure is going to grow step by step," Blier said.

"They will enter the game smoothly, quietly."

Elitzur Ramla like to press opponents and harass them into making mistakes.

That was the biggest failure of Athinaikos, to cave in against them at the end of the opening leg in Israel.

The Greeks weren't able to overcome the 15-point first-leg deficit when they met in Athens.

The Arras players know that a lot of people back in France will be pulling for them.

"We will do our best to not disappoint our fans," guard Sarah Michel said.

Perhaps two reasons why Arras have been able to cope with the pressures of the EuroCup Women has been the presence of two national teams players, Johanne Gomis and Mariella Amant, who were able to compete for France last summer at the FIBA World Championship for Women.

Amant, a 21-year-old power forward/center, understands what big games are all about.

10. Olesia Malashenko (Arras)
Arras Power Forward Olesia Malashenko finished third in the Young Women's Player of the Year voting and is now in her first European Final

"There is no pressure so far in the team but it will grow few hours before the game," she said.

Arras president Jean Louis Monneret is very upbeat ahead of the Finals because of what transpired in the Semi-Finals.

The French outfit battled back from a 21-point deficit to shock Chevakata 67-66 in the first leg of their Semi-Final, and then in Russia Arras got a jump shot from Johanne Gomis in the closing stages to knot the contest at 67-67.

That gave the team a one-point win on aggregate.

"The pressure they got during the last game will serve them to enter in this game," he said.

Elitzur Ramla will be believing this is their year, though.

The club has been impressive on the road to the Finals.

Ramla beat Dynamo Moscow in the Eighth Finals, Gran Canaria in the Quarter-Finals and defending champions Sony Athinaikos in the Semis.

As for the protagonists in this series, there are plenty of names to consider.

Le'Coe Willingham has led Ramla with averages of 19.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, but it was Shay Doron and Rivi Grinboym who each poured in 20 points to lead the team at Sony Athinaikos, where they lost 88-81 but still won the tie on aggregate.

In addition to Gomis, who had eight steals in the win over Chevakata, Pauline Akonga has been hell on opponents.

She has averaged 17.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.

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