Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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There's one special characteristic which EuroLeague Women never seems to lose - its ability to deliver seismic shock results which take your breath away.
So far this season, there have been a few which will live long in the memory but the home win for VICI Aistes Kaunas against Ros Casares during Week 9 was special with a capital S! It was so much of a surprise that I had to look twice just to be sure. This success would be sensational for the Lithuanian club at any time and its definitely up there with their famous successes of last season when they beat four-time reigning champions Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje and eventual winners Perfumerias Avenida.
|Erin Phillips Wisla Can-Pack came out winners from the top of the group clash with Sparta&K|
But, placed into the context of a 1-7 start to the season and in a week when one of their most influential players in Sandra Linkeviciene departed for UMMC Ekaterinburg, this was maybe even more stunning. I was slightly disappointed how the absence of Linkeviciene seemed to be lost and even considered inconsequential in the aftermath of the game. She may not be quite as vogue as Sancho Lyttle but nevertheless Linkeviciene is a player with more steals than any other in EuroLeague Women and of course clearly good enough for Ekat to sign her.
Focusing on the absence of Sancho Lyttle as the cause for a loss for Ros alarmed me. A stacked team with world class talent like Ros should always be able to operate without one major player (as important and as fantastic as Sancho Lyttle is), as they evidence recently when they hammered Galatasaray without Lauren Jackson.
Yet in spite of all this and previous concerns over finding the right role for Jackson, I think this will still only be a blip for the Valencia club who categorically remain a potential champion and they may take comfort from the omens of last season when VICI Aistes managed to beat both eventual finalists in Kaunas.
But, this wasn't about the losers or the players who weren't on the court. This was all about standing up and applauding a gutsy team performance from VICI Aistes who produced a result which meant a great night for the underdog, for Women's basketball in Lithuania and for EuroLeague Women in general.
Nadezhda and Schio Come In From Cold
The big mover and shakers in the competition during recent weeks has to be Nadezhda and Beretta Famila Schio who both started poorly but have enjoyed a mid-term renaissance that has catapulted them into much stronger positions. Nadezhda in particular are on a real roll having won three consecutive games. Quite a contrast from the early part of the season when they were staring down the barrel after three losses from the first five games and were trying to cope with mounting injury problems as the likes of Liudmila Sapova was ruled out.
Schio meanwhile are a veteran team who looked to be really labouring but they have also come alive lately with their only loss in the last month or so coming at Nadezhda. However, the true test of their ability to maybe reach Final Eight will come next time when they head to Istanbul to face unbeaten Fenerbahce.
Dumerc Makes A Point
One of the most interesting games of Week 9 was Celine Dumerc going up against her former employers UMMC Ekaterinburg and coming up trumps with a magnificent win for Bourges Basket. It was a triumphant night for the French national team star, and as if Algirdas Paulauskas didn't already know it, the playmaker reminded the Ekat head coach of exactly what the Russian club were missing as they slumped to a third loss. Incidentally, the Russian club have not done so since way back in 2007. Just as with Ros Casares, I doubt this changes their ability to finish top of the podium but questions continue to be raised about all of the competition big guns.
'Old Skool' Wisla Wonders
The games live on FIBA Europe TV have been really good lately and this week was no different. While it was hardly an edge of your seat blockbuster, it did offer a quite beautiful contrast on and off the court. The Wisla Can Pack fans continued to show why they are some of the most passionate around as they created the never less than excellent atmosphere in Krakow with their usual noisy antics while on the floor, Jose Hernandez and his team were composure and calmness personified as they produced a really eye-opening performance against a good Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje team. Now with a pretty much full roster of healthy players, I thought Wisla played with great control, patience and went 'old skool' in their simplistic approach to the fundamentals of the game. They played good defence, did a good job on the glass, didn't rush shots and as I hinted in my preview, didn't get caught up in a run and gun game but played the contest at their pace. It was very impressive and a reminder to all purists of how doing the simple things well can make a world of difference.
The Shine Of Nine
I don't think there has been a better week of EuroLeague Women for a long time. There was just so much happening in terms of unpredictable results, sizeable shifts in momentum and general talking points during Week 9. In Group A, it was genuinely refreshing to see that three of the bottom four placed teams all won during the same week while results in Group C panned out superbly for the neutrals amongst us with six teams engaged in a battle royale for five spots. In particular I just can't wait for Week 10 and what looks to be a monumentally important game between fifth placed Good Angels Kosice who incidentally claimed that terrific success at Rivas Ecopolis and sixth place Gospic CO who have dragged themselves back into contention.
PAULBALL WEEK NINE PICKS
Performance Of The Week - There were so many options to choose from. You really have to hand it to Bourges for beating Ekat and I am actually tempted to also say Wisla Can-Pack because of how impressive they were in just about every facet of their game against Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje, but I am sure Jose Hernandez will forgive me for handing the award this week to VICI Aistes Kaunas for that jaw dropping win against Ros Casares.
Cameo Of The Week - Endene Miyem and Celine Dumerc took the main headlines for Bourges against Ekat but what a great shooting performance by Cathy Joens who claimed 18 points including three of four from downtown.
Rising Star Watch - A relatively quiet week for the rising stars of EuroLeague Women with nothing significant to report, perhaps reflective of the intensity of Week 9 when many games went down to the wire requiring experience.
Stats Don't Lie - CCC Polkowice forward Agnieszka Majewska became the first player this season to block five shots in a game when she accomplished the feat against Fenerbahce. The Turkish club meanwhile stretched their unbeaten record to a super seven games and will enjoy at least one more week as the only undefeated club in the competition. Seat Gyor completed a famous double over Lotos Gdynia and central to that was Quanitra Hollingsworth who pulled down 14 defensive rebounds, more than any other player has managed in a game so far.