| ||Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org. |
Bang on course for a perfect sweep of predictions in the last sixteen and feeling pretty smug, I should have anticipated that the delicious roller-coaster that is EuroLeague Women would wipe the smile off my face in one fell swoop and bite me where it hurts.
Yes, there is only one place to start this week and that is with hearty congratulations to Frisco Sika Brno who tore up my prediction and shoved it down my throat after pulling off a fantastic second road win in Madrid against Rivas Ecopolis.
Brno At The Double
I hold my hands up to being completely wrong and you really have to stand and applaud the efforts of the Czech club. Their defence against Rivas was commendable and relentless. Dewanna Bonner was again a tower of strength as was Taj McWilliams and with Viteckova raining home a few triples, Skerovic absolutely solid and Horakova doing what she does best by leading the team, Brno were worthy winners. One other critical strategy by the experienced Jab Bobrovsky was that he went for strict a six player rotation of his experienced players to get the job done. Laden with veteran players, they can certainly consider themselves worthy Final Four contenders but if foul trouble or injury arrives, who will step up? Maybe more of that next week in the last eight previews!
It's been quite a week or so for Czech point guard Hana Horakova hasn't it? She books herself a place in the last eight of EuroLeague Women and then gets the nod as the replacement for Becky Hammon in the All Star Game to be held in Gdynia on March 9th. Having played for ten successive years in the competition, it seems an apt reward for the longevity she has shown which incidentally shows no sign of slowing down!
We say goodbye or should I say ‘adios' to Rivas Ecopolis but not without congratulating the club from the Spanish capital on their thrilling rookie ELW campaign. When the raw emotion of losing against Brno has subsided, they will realise this seasons exploits have probably exceeded the realistic ambitions of last summer. Unfortunately with unexpected success comes expectation and that makes losing all the more hard to bear. Still, reaching the last sixteen in such comprehensive fashion and by topping a tremendously competitive Group C during qualifying was a great effort and they will be stronger for the experience. Rivas let me down on my predictions although I will mention one last time that one prediction associated with the Spanish team did come true. That is my continual insistence that when Dubljevic doesn't have a good line, Rivas lose. Rather than putting that weight of blame squarely on your shoulders Jelena, try to think of it as a compliment - even if it is a backhanded one of sorts I admit!
Brno Barrier for Jose
When Jose Hernandez took the reins in Krakow last summer he didn't even know he would be participating in EuroLeague Women, let alone in a position which is expertly summed up in his own words - "We need to win two more games to get to the Final Four!". Yes, hard to believe and Wisla Can Pack are very much the sliver lining of the cloud that was the disappearance of CSKA Moscow. Their reward? Well, avoiding Ekat and Spartak for a start (and to a lesser extent Ros Casares) although Brno will be no pushovers as they showed in Madrid. Back to back appearances in the last four of this competition would be astonishing given the circumstances. Wisla Can-Pack have grabbed their opportunity with relish and continue to entertain us along the way! Once again when it mattered, they delivered - both on and off the court. Roared on by their fans, it was a dominant finish to the series with Pecs as they brutally ended the hopes of their visitors with that 15-2 run to take the win, the series and a quarter-final spot (Watch video here!). Janell Burse continues to clean up on the glass more effectively than a cloth and the best window spray on the market! She pulled down 16 boards and most impressively - a massive seven offensive rebounds which was the third best ELW performance of the year in this particular category!
The Yes Factor
Is there any stopping Marta Fernandez? I have spoken about each team's ‘X-Factor'. this season - that unpredictable factor or player who can influence a game. However in the case of Wisla, they have someone who is very much the ‘Yes' factor. In Fernandez, the Polish club can seemingly always rely on a genuine all action-hero since when it comes to action, you can count on her being involved. This was no better illustrated than by her 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block in game three against Pecs. An All Star player that may not always actually shine the brightest, but whose star rarely fails to shine at all - making her very much the ‘Yes Factor' in any game.
Pecs Finally Crack in Krakow
To say that this campaign has been an up and down one for the team from Hungary would be a significant understatement. At many points in the group stages it looked like Mizo Pecs might not even make it to the second phase at all. Remember they lost their first three games this season and were 2-6 heading into Round 9.However they have showed plenty of character since that time, gradually getting some kind of momentum going and I have been impressed with the way that they shrugged off their battering in game one against Wisla. Coach Fuzy was right to thank his players and the fans. That blowout wasn't easy to handle but to come back with a big home-court win and then be tied in Krakow in the decider with less than five minutes left to play was really credible. I guess in the end they ran out of gas against a stronger Wisla team and being stone cold from outside barely helped. Vajda again showed her class and what about Dalma Ivanyi? Having delivered that marvellous triple-double you could argue that she almost did the trick again and that would have been remarkable to say the least! She did the hard part with those 10 rebounds and 11 assists but couldn't get barely anything to drop and must be wondering about being 0 of 7 from outside - if only a couple of those had dropped! Then again, ‘if only' doesn't matter to players, coaches or fans does it?
When fate dictated Halcon Avenida would have arch rivals Ros Casares standing between them and back to back appearances at Final Four, the fans in Salamanca probably didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Of course for the neutral it sets up an absolute cracker of a series to really whet the appetite and I can't wait. Halcon Avenida really showed they are a class team by coming back from that nightmare first half to get past Bourges and they are a team more than capable of being crowned the highest ranking Spanish team in the competition once again. It's another fantastic duel between the two Liga Femenina heavyweights and you have really got to love it!
Lyttle Big Show
Sancho Lyttle is still red-hot and has been all season long, this time delivering 22 points and 15 rebounds for Salamanca to claim the Player of the Week Award. While this wasn't such a monstrous double-double as it sounds as she shot under forty percent, I do feel that if there is one player who can feel particularly aggrieved not to be heading to Gdynia it is her. Since stepping up from EuroCup she is averaging a superb ‘double-double' right across her rookie ELW season. I feel anyone with those numbers should feel desperately unlucky not to be featuring in the forthcoming All Star game!
Bourges Break Tradition
It is an unwanted landmark for Bourges as they broke with tradition last week. After their hopes of progressing to the last eight were ended, it was the first time in their history that they have failed to make it to the quarter-finals of EuroLeague Women!
Blue Isn't The Colour
When Bourges went out against Halcon Avenida so did representation of the French League. That followed hot on the heels of the departure of the Italian clubs meaning blue really isn't the colour this year is it? With no French or Italian clubs we now have 2 from Russia, 2 from Spain, 1 from Poland, 1 from Slovakia, 1 from Turkey and 1 from Czech Republic. All I know is that there definitely won't be two from Spain and two from Russia at Final Four of course!
Bye Bye Becky
As those of you who follow my tweets on Twitter may have seen, I did raise one eyebrow when Hammon was originally included in the All Star game. Not because she isn't a star. She is one of the biggest around. Simply that her form this season has been steady rather than spectacular. Now she has left Ros Casares, her ELW contribution could probably be summed up exactly as that - steady if unspectacular. It will be interesting to see if she comes back to Europe next season and with Valdemoro back in the fold and moving up the gears, perhaps her departure might have only a limited impact on the Spanish side.
Those Players Of The Year
Can't forget to congratulate Sandrine Gruda and Alba Torrens on winning their player of the year awards and I will admit that I did only have one of them down in first spot when I voted!
I think I will save those quarter-final previews until next time - and those dreaded predictions!
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