By Jeff Taylor
Rivas Ecópolis and Good Angels Kosice are home and dry with one game remaining in the Qualifying Round of EuroLeague Women Group C.
They're headed to the Eighth-Finals Play-offs.
For Bourges, ZVVZ USK Prague and MKB Euroleasing, however, there is everything to play for.
For the objective fan, Group C has a perfect finish to the Qualifying Round since three teams are going after two play-off spots.
|Essence Carson and Bourges Basket may need some help to advance, depending on the outcome of their game with Rivas.|
American baseball's famous quotes machine, New York Yankees great Yogi Berra, sure was right when he said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
It certainly looked over for Sopron before their December 16 home game against Bourges.
Norbert Székely's side, which reached the Final Four last season, was riding a five-game losing streak and looking like anything but a play-off team.
They won at home against Bourges, 83-73, to stay alive.
Then in their first European game of 2010 on January 14, Székely's team travelled to Madrid and upset Rivas Ecópolis, 71-67.
That result, coupled with Good Angels Kosice's 89-75 victory at Prague, left the Hungarian and Czech teams with 4-5 records.
Bourges also won last week, hammering Gorzow 84-57 to also improve to 4-5.
What it means to Prague and MKB Euroleasing is that victory in Wednesday's game in Sopron for either side will guarantee a spot in the next round.
Defeat for Sopron would eliminate them, while Prague could still lose and advance but only if Rivas defeat Bourges in France as they would have a better goal differential in their two meetings.
"I'm expecting a close, exciting game," Székely said to FIBA Europe.
"If we look at the rosters, Prague has stronger, more experienced players.
"But we are strong as a team, and we have to realize this on Wednesday.
"We have to stop their fastbreaks, push their strong centers far away from the basket and not let them score behind the 6.25m (three-point) line.
"We have gone over our tactics for them and I hope it will take us to victory and into the play-offs."
Prague Focus On Defense
While the feel-good factor is in Sopron, it's worth remembering that twice already this season they have fallen to Prague.
In the pre-season tournament in Ekaterinburg that also included the United States national side, Sopron lost to Prague and they also fell 93-75 in the first Group C encounter back on November 25.
The Prague going into Wednesday's game is a different Prague from the teams' clash in November.
Lubor Blazek's squad has lost three straight games in Europe, including last week to Kosice.
They have given up an average of 90 points in the three defeats to Rivas, Gorzow and Kosice.
They simply haven't played the kind of defense that's needed to win EuroLeague Women games, especially when play-off places are at stake.
"What we do now, the biggest problem - our defense," Prague assistant coach Ivan Beneš said.
"We must begin to defend, actually defend, defend, defend.
"Although it's cliché as all the coaches say it, it's true.
"We do not have problems scoring points ...
"The current situation is simply to improving our defense..."
The most important player for Sopron the past two weeks has been power forward Amber Holt.
The American poured in 16 points in the victory over Bourges and 18 in the triumph at Rivas.
Serbia international Jelena Milovanovic has also been solid the past two weeks, scoring 12 points in each win.
"In the first game, we lost by 23 but now we need only a victory," Milovanovic said to FIBA Europe.
"So we don't need to take risks. We have to concentrate 'only' on winning the game. The difference (points margin) doesn't matter.
"If we play our game, I'm sure we will be in the play-offs."
Bourges, meanwhile, prevailed 69-68 at Arras in the French league over the weekend.
"It was a game where there was a lot of intensity, both physically and psychologically," Bourges coach Pierre Vincent said.
"It was a tough game to win.
"Now we'll have to focus on the next game and most importantly, Wednesday, against Madrid (Rivas)."
If Bourges win against Rivas, they advance. If they lose, they can still go to the play-offs but only if Prague beat Sopron.