By Jeff Taylor, PA Sport
Audrey Sauret's campaign with UMMC Ekaterinburg hasn't gone to plan with the club having made an early play-off exit from the EuroLeague Women.
Ekaterinburg boast seasoned internationals Sauret (France), Yolanda Griffith (United States) and Suzie Batkovic (Australia), but the team never gelled and lost to MKB Euroleasing Sopron in the eighth-finals in two games.
In previous years, Sauret had played for well-oiled machines at US Valenciennes and Bourges Basket so the elimination from the EuroLeague Women was a huge disappointment.
"No roles really got established (this season) so I've had a hard time finding a way to express myself," she said to PA Sport.
"I'm still working hard and will have better days!"
There is much to play for in both Russia and later this year with the French national team for Sauret, however.
In the Russian Cup, Ekaterinburg are in the semi-finals and await the winners of Spartak Moscow Region's clash with Dynamo-Energiya Novosibirsk, with Spartak holding an 89-84 lead after the first leg.
|Audrey Sauret averaged 11.3 ppg for France at the EuroBasket Women 2005|
There is also the Superleague Women. Sauret & Co are third with 15 wins and three defeats.
Once the summer arrives, Sauret will turn her attention to the national team, which will play at the 16-team FIBA World Championship for Women in Brazil.
The last time France played in the big event was 2002 in China when the 1.78m forward averaged 8.6 points and just over three rebounds per game.
Les Bleues, who were coming off a EuroBasket 2001 victory on home soil, lost many of their veteran players and finished eighth.
This summer, France are in Group D alongside European champions the Czech Republic, Chinese Taipei and Cuba.
"It's really exciting to think about another World Championship," said the 29-year-old Sauret.
"And I think it's good way for our team to improve and for young players to get more experience."
France needed to win a classification game against Latvia at the EuroBasket Women in Turkey last year to reach Brazil so they were not one of the seeds for the draw.
"Fortunately, our group is not the toughest one but what awaits us in the next round if we go through can be pretty tough," she said.
"We just have to go out there and play hard without feeling any pressure."
So what are France's chances? They do have veterans like Sauret and Bourges star Cathy Melain.
What they do not have is a big, strong player in the low post. Sauret says they will have to make up for it in other ways.
"France need to keep our strong defense but we need to play with more freedom and a really high rhythm to compensate for our small average size," Sauret said.
"France no longer has a strong true center so we need to concentrate on playing with more motion and to move faster."
France were on such a high in 2001 when they won the EuroBasket Women as hosts that hopes in the country skyrocketed.
There was a belief that 2001 marked the beginning of a golden era for the French.
They haven't been able to build on that success, though.
Following the eighth-placed finish at the 2002 World Championship, they needed to win a medal at the EuroBasket Women in Greece to reach the 2004 Olympics but lost to eventual champions Russia in the quarter-finals.
"France need to be in world competition consistently to confirm their results of the last six to seven years," Sauret said.
"Missing the Olympics in Greece was for sure a disappointment. We saw in the last two last European Championships that we've had a hard time challenging the top teams in Europe like Russia or the Czech Republic.
"After losing key players, we've had to start to rebuild the team."
At club level, it has been an interesting year for Sauret.
The 29-year-old has spent the majority of her career in France with US Valenciennes and Bourges Basket but switched to Russia this season.
"The Russian teams treat you really great, try to make your life comfortable," she said.
"They know it's an adjustment. You leave family, friends and kind of your lifestyle.
"There aren't too many things to do, so you mainly spend time on your computer or watching DVDs.
"We spend lot of time travelling, too. When you come over here you know it's for basketball and nothing else. That's going to be your life."
There have been highs and lows with Ekaterinburg for Sauret.
"I'm happy with my form," Sauret said. "I've come back pretty strong from my knee surgery but I'm not going to hide my frustration about the performance and the way we play in our team in Ekaterinburg."
Sauret will not play the game forever but she doesn't know how long she will continue.
"My life after basketball will first be to have a family and my wish will be to stay in sports through marketing or communications," she said.
"This is the world I know best and has given me the most emotions. I would like not to lose that."