Nykesha Sales chose the opportune time to have the game of her life.
After not even scoring in two quarter-final contests, Sales off the bench to score 16 points in the fourth quarter of a hotly contested game to lead Gambrinus to a 68-54 win over Samara, giving the Czech team their first ever EuroLeague Women title.
As Samara´s Ilona Korstin misfired and time expired, a raucous celebration unfolded in front of a sold-out crowd at the Brno Arena in the Czech Republic.
"This is a great group of women and I am so happy to be a part of this team," said Sales.
|Brno dominated the boards, led by DeLisha Milton who collected nine|
The victory avenged Gambrinus´ defeat from last year when they lost to Samara in the final.
In a game that went back and forth in the second half, Sales caught fire from the perimeter to carry Gambrinus.
Her jumper with 1:45 remaining gave Gambrinus a 60-52 lead. Following a three-point misfire from Samara´s Svetlana Abrosimova, Sales came down and hit another jumper to essentially ice the game and give her team a 62-52 lead with 1:41 to go.
For good measure, Sales hit another jumper to set off an early celebration in Brno as Gambrinus led 64-52 with 1:18 remaining.
"The opportunity opened for me to step up and I took advantage," Sales said in an on-court interview in the midst of jubilant fans.
"I am a veteran so I know what to do in these types of situations."
"Nykesha Sales is an explosive scorer, especially in tight situations," said Sales´ teammate DeLisha Milton, who collected a team-high nine rebounds despite sitting out a good portion of the first half with three fouls.
"I knew she would come up with a big performance. She had that look in her eye."
The native of Hartford, Connecticut scored all of her 16 points when it mattered in the fourth quarter.
"I have had better games in my life, but tonight was my best performance in a game that was this important," she said.
Sales opened the fourth quarter by burying a pair of three-pointers that gave Gambrinus a four-point advantage 52-48.
"Sometimes you just need to make one shot to get into a rythmn," she said.
Hana Machova tallied 14 points for Gambrinus and hit a clutch foul line jumper with 2:31 to go in the game that allowed Gambrinus to open up a six-point lead, 58-52.
|Hana Machova scored 14 points|
From there, Sales sealed the victory.
"Which ever team could go on the late run would win the game," Milton said.
Gambrinus got off to a blistering start in the first quarter, making nine of their first 10 field goal attempts.
It was the second consecutive game Gambrinus got off to a fast start. In their semi-final victory over USVO on Friday, Gambrinus scored the first 10 points of the game.
A turnover by Samara and an Eva Viteckova three from the corner with 3:52 to go in the first quarter put the sold out crowd into a frenzy and gave Gambrinus a 20-6 lead.
With 2:29 to go in the first quarter, Milton picked up her third foul and Samara subsequently went on a 14-5 run.
"I was heart-broken when I picked up that foul," Milton said.
"I wanted to come and play aggressive, but unfortunately I got called for two quick ones early and then after that I could never get back in the rythmn of the game."
Viteckova led Gambrinus in the first quarter with nine points and finished with 12 for the game.
After Milton picked up her third foul, Samara began to chip away at the lead and trailed 25-16 after one quarter.
|Players of Gambrinus Sika Brno celebrating after winning the 2006 EuroLeague Women title|
Edwige Lawson scored seven straight points to get Samara within three at 25-22 to start the second.
Machova, who was getting a breather on the bench, re-entered the game and Gambrinus scored the next six points to get back on track.
With Milton sitting on the bench for the whole second quarter, Gambrinus still maintained a seven-point lead going into halftime, 38-31.
Despite Samara´s tremendous height on the frontline, Gambrinus out-rebounded Samara 20-6 in the first half and 42-24 for the game.
"In big games, it comes down to executing and loose balls," said Milton.
"We wanted every loose ball and rebound and we did exactly that."
The third quarter was an all-out defensive struggle. Gambrinus connected on just three field goals. Samara also struggled, but was able to cut the lead to two at 46-44 going into the fourth quarter.
The game was one of the most intense and physical women´s basketball contests in recent memory.
There is no statisic that counts players´ dives for loose balls, but if there were, the totals would have been significant.
"We knew it would be very intense, there would be lots of elbows, contact and blood," said Milton.
"It´s part of the game," said Milton.
Maria Stepanova led Samara with 15 points and Ann Wauters chipped in with 10, six of which came at critical junctures of the game midway in the fourth quarter.
The win snapped Gambrinus´run of five EuroLeague Women Final Fours without a title.