No one said it was going to be easy, but CSKA Moscow certainly made it look that way this season - at least up to the EuroLeague Women play-offs.
Now that the post-season is underway, CSKA coach Gundars Vetra and his players find themselves in danger of crashing out of the competition after an 81-74 home defeat to UMMC Ekaterinburg in the first game of their quarter-final series on Tuesday.
After having to come from behind to beat Halcon Avenida in Game Two of their eighth-finals game tie in Salamanca, CSKA slipped up against Ekaterinburg, a club that has a squad that is every bit as deep and talented as the Moscow outfit.
|Sharp-shooting Agnieszka Bibrzycka has been a key to Ekaterinburg's success.|
Now CSKA Moscow fans are going to have a very nervous few days.
Ekaterinburg, they will have realized on Tuesday night, is a team loaded with leading internationals from Australia, France, Russia and Belarus.
The club, it seemed, had not quite fulfilled its potential all season, hosting but not winning the FIBA Women's World League (CSKA won instead) while also falling to Bourges in group play and suffering defeat twice in the Russia Superleague Women, including a 74-65 home setback on December 16 against CSKA.
After the EuroLeague Women's regular season, Ekaterinburg made a couple of important signings. They brought in USO Basket sharpshooter Caroline Aubert and TEO Vilnius' Yelena Leuchanka, the Belarus national team star.
"Now we are playing with a full roster and we are practicing very well," said Ekaterinburg boss Laurent Buffard.
"We had a great desire to play aggressive defense (against CSKA) and we did."
He then made an ominous declaration to CSKA, saying: "If we'll play in the same way - we'll win at home."
CSKA's Amaya Valdemoro, who was Spain's EuroBasket Women 2007 MVP, and the rest of the Moscow players might have something to say about that.
But there is no mistaking the doubt that as crept into the CSKA camp after the club's first loss in any competition this season.
"We lost, and it's a bad situation for us," admitted Vetra.
Before leaving for Ekaterinburg for Friday's game, he said: "All of us will do our best to win there, but it'll be very hard."