| ||Dominique Faurie has covered women's basketball all over Europe and will write regularly for FIBAEurope.com during the EuroLeague season. |
It's the end of January, and the year is in fact just beginning.
The Eighth Finals are coming. At least 16 big games (perhaps as many as 24). It's a lot of work to cover, so I asked Celine Dumerc of Bourges and Ivana Matovic of Gdynia to help me, to talk about their games, and others.
Bourges - Brno, The Clash
Last year these two teams met in the Semi-Finals of EuroLeague Women with the team from Brno posting a big fourth quarter and a dominant overtime to advance to the Final against Spartak. Celine Dumerc, the Bourges point guard, is one of the best in Europe and hasn't forgotten the sting of defeat.
"It might be a chance for revenge," Dumerc says.
"But we won't focus on it. We have new players and so do they. It's not down to 40 or 45 minutes, but to two or three games. So it's different."
Dumerc was a bit surprised by the difficult start of the Czech Giants, who were the last qualified in their group, but she considers the threat very seriously.
"Their fourth place looks a bit strange compared with their stature. But we know they'll improve game after game, week after week. They have experienced and talented players like Whitmore, Machova and Zirkova back from injury. It's a real pity to meet them so early in the competition."
Bourges suffered three defeats in Group A, but finished first. Everybody was wondering, before the beginning of the season, if the Tango team was as strong as last year, without Snell, Kireta and Petrovic.
"At first I thought we were," explains Dumerc.
"Now, I'm saying. Perhaps we miss experience, but we're stronger physically."
Anyway, this "almost final" should be a tight series.
"Perhaps the winner will need three games. It might be two if we lose the first one at home."
I wonder if Dumerc remembers what happened in 2006 when Brno, the eventual winner, won in Bourges, lost at home, and qualified by one point in game three in France.
It's gonna be hot in Prado Tuesday, in front of Fröhlich's new team, even if Bourges might miss of mark. The French champion had no games in their domestic league, only playing friendly games or French Cup games against a second division team.
"We'll see if it's a problem," Dumerc says.
"But we have time to prepare for this game against Brno, physically and tactically."
8.9 points per game
4.6 rebounds per game
5 assists per game
1.9 turnover per game
2.2 steals per game
Fenerbahce - Gdynia, An Exotic Confrontation
Bourges - Brno is a traditional rendezvous in EuroLeague Women. Fenerbahce - Gdynia looks more exotic, between the warm Turkish historic capital and the Polish harbour. A little bit exotic, especially for the Serbian center Ivana Matovic, who has never faced Fener in six EuroLeague Women seasons.
But it will be a hot game too, according to Ivana.
"The first game, on their court, will be very important. If we win there, we'll host them in our new gym, with our fans, and a wonderful atmosphere. We'll do our best in Istanbul, and I hope it will be enough." Says Matovic.
Matovic, who is averaging 17.4 points per game this season, has a beautiful story with Lotos.
"We had a difficult start, but it was mainly due to our schedule. Our only mistake was our big defeat in Hainaut, but our group was the most difficult with Ekaterinburg and Valencia. Those teams really impressed me, especially Valencia with a quick game around Valdemoro and other players."
The leader of Lotos, ninth in scoring in the EuroLeague Women rankings, expects the Polish team (finalist in 2002 and 2004) to forget past disappointments.
"We're on a good way, leading our league, and I think we're better and better, like European basketball after all these years."
Complementing Matovic are Podrug, Alana Beard and Natalia Marchanka. Lotos completed their roster with Tamika Catchings, who arrived before this Eighth Final.
"In my opinion," Lotos coach Jacek Winnicki has said.
"Tamika Catchings is the best forward in the world."
Gdynia has a lot of assets to try to block Fenerbache's way.
As far as the next round goes it might depend on CSKA's qualification. If Grudin's team beats Salamanca, they will meet Ekaterinburg, and avoid a difficult contest with the Turkish or Polish side.
"Even if they're good teams, I'd rather play against Venezia or Pecs than against UMMC." Matovic says.
53% 2-pt percentage
100% 3-pt percentage
76.3% free-throw percentage
5.2 rebounds per game