By Paul Nilsen
Icelandic rising star Helena Sverrisdottir believes defence holds the key for Good Angels Kosice as they try to keep their Final Eight dream alive with a game two success over UMMC Ekaterinburg,
Having made their powerful opponents work hard for an unconvincing 61-55 game one win in Russia earlier this week, the Slovak club is now looking to sign off their season on home soil in style by rewarding their fans with a victory to extend their campaign a little further.
Not surprisingly, Sverrisdottir is expecting another tough match-up but knows her team-mates will be putting their heart and soul into keeping the tie alive.
She said, "They will come in strong just like they did in Ekat. It will be important for us to play great defence and not let them get ahead.
"We need to be more aggressive offensively and make sure we stay together and play to our strengths.
"We have nothing to lose so we will give it our all and play with great intensity.
"It's hard to point out one thing that went wrong in game one" added Sverrisdottir.
"We did some good things on defence - for example we were able to hold them to 61 points which is far from their average.
"But, we also gave up too many offensive rebounds and we didn't get the defensive stops we needed in the final quarter.
"Offensively I feel like we can improve in our aggressiveness and decision making."
The mentality of the EuroLeague Women rookie typifies the approach Good Angels Kosice has shown this season as they bid to continue embedding themselves as a perennial play-off team.
Indeed whatever happens against Ekat, it's been another impressive campaign for the Slovakian champions and even more so since they have such inexperience compared to many other Round 2 clubs.
"Yes, the season for us has been pretty good" agreed Sverrisdottir.
"We have a fairly young team but we have been able to play good team basketball and different players have stepped up for us at different times.
"We got some good wins, both home and on the road and the games we lost were all close games except one.
"So, we were pretty happy with our season overall."
Ekat meanwhile had Sue Bird to thank for steering them away from a shock defeat in the first game with several of the other big guns misfiring badly on the night.
It's been an eventful and at times disruptive season for Ekat who have suffered more than their fair share of injury problems with Svetlana Abrosimova, Maria Stepanova, Hana Horakova and Anete Jekabsone all spending significant time in the treatment room.
But, with their vast resources, they will still be expected to finish the job in game two and safely punch their ticket for Istanbul.
SEASON SO FAR
• Good Angels Kosice finished third in Group C with an impressive 9-5 record. They have already lost at home to a Russian team this season when they fell to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje, the other home loss coming against Wisla Can-Pack. Domestically, Kosice are top of the standings with a flawless 19 wins from 19 games.
• UMMC Ekaterinburg finished third in Group A with a 10-4 record and have lost three times on the road this season in the competition. In the Russian league, Ekat are in second spot with a 14-1 record but having played a game less than great rivals Sparta&K.
THE HOT HANDS
• Danielle McCray has led the way in scoring for Good Angels Kosice all season long with 15.9 points per game in what has been a solid first year in the competition. However her defence work must not go unnoticed since she averages two steals per game which puts her in the tournament top ten in this category. Natalia Vieru has also had a remarkable year as she continues a transformation from EuroLeague Women bench player to a pivotal figure for a play-off team.
• Bird was obviously on fire in the first game which has been well documented. Outside of this, Sandrine Gruda and Candace Parker have generally led the way this season for the visitors in terms of production.
• Ekat will probably try to shackle Vieru since the Russian just loves playing against teams from her homeland this season and they probably can't afford to risk another huge performance from her. If she has an off night and is contained, it just makes life so much tougher for Good Angels.
• For many years, coaches have been trying to limit the impact of Bird who is such a class act. For the most part, they have had little success and nothing has really changed in terms of her status as a player who just loves the clutch part of games and seems to increase in influence during the clutch part of the season. While she may not go off offensively like she did in game one, you sense Kosice simply has to upset her rhythm and knock her out of her stride - somehow.
• As stated clearly by Sverrisdottir, the home team can't give up offensive rebounds in the same way. Fourteen in game one was a decisive factor in losing the game and the hosts must do a better job of ‘boxing-out'. While a fundamental aspect of any game, it's as huge one which could save their skin and force a deciding game.
Miljana Bojovic grabbed 10 assists in game one, a great effort typical of a breakthrough season but this good work was undeniably undone a little by nine turnovers. Her performance at the point position presumably against Bird, will be absolutely pivotal.
Highlights game one