On paper, Gambrinus Brno appears to have the clear advantage against US Valenciennes Olympic in the two teams’ EuroLeague Women semi-final match-up this evening.
Gambrinus is playing at home in Brno and has experience on their side after falling just short in the championship game in last year’s Final Four.
Many of Gambrinus’ players went on to claim EuroBasket gold that summer with the Czech national team.
On the other hand, USVO has just one player, Sandra Le Drean, remaining from its 2004 squad that claimed the EuroLeague Women title.
|De Lisha Milton is averaging over 16 points a game in her first season with Gambrinus |
Talented youngsters Sandrine Gruda, Jennifer Digbeu and Sylvie Gruzczynski – whose combined average age is 18.3 – have been a major part of USVO’s success this season but lack Final Four and top international level experience.
Nevertheless, USVO enters the game optimistically.
“They are clearly the favourites,” said USVO coach Laurent Buffard, who is taking part in his fifth final four.
“It’s their gym, their city. We are definitely the underdogs, but that’s fine with us. We can always cause an upset.”
When asked if he felt his team might be intimidated playing on the road against Gambrinus, Buffard replied: “absolutely not. We respect them, but I think we will come out and play like we did all year.”
“In my opinion, Samara is the best team on paper, but Gambrinus is the best team on the court,” said USVO guard Kristi Harrower.
“They are big and strong and play very well as a team. They also have the benefit of having several Czech national team players who have been together.”
“Our team has surprised a lot of people by making it this far. We hope to surprise again while we are here.”
Gambrinus isn’t overlooking their French opponents.
“They are going to give us a run for our money,” said Gambrinus’ top-scorer DeLisha Milton.
“We have four teams on the same level and any team can win it,” added point guard Hana Machova.
“The games can simply come down to one play.”
Gambrinus finished the first round with an 8-2 record, swept USO Basket in two games and then ousted Bourges Basket in the quarter-finals.
They will try to eliminate a French club for the third consecutive round and this time could have the services of Czech national team player Ivana Vecerova.
The 194-cm center had a knee operation after EuroBasket and has been practicing with Brno for the last month although is yet to see action in the EuroLeague Women.
Depending on how her knee feels when the game starts, she could see playing time, according to Gambrinus assistant coach Milan Veverka.
While USVO has used a balanced scoring attack which features seven players averaging 9.9 points per game or more, Le Drean is the focal point of USVO offense.
“She is a tremendous player,” said Milton.
“She is a pure shooter who is also very athletic and mobile. She is tough to guard.”
USVO will try to use their balanced offense that has carried them through a current nine-game winning streak and a successful season with only one EuroLeague Women loss.
“We play well down low and on the perimeter which is one of our strengths,” said Le Drean.
“For us to be successful, we need to play a balanced game. We also have to play great defense as they are such a strong and physical team.”
USVO will pay specific attention to slowing down Milton averaging 16.1 points in the EuroLeague Women and Eva Viteckova, who is posting 12.1 a contest.