| ||Dominique Faurie has covered women's basketball all over Europe and will write regularly for FIBAEurope.com during the EuroLeague season. |
Thank god for the EuroLeague Women All Star Game, otherwise it would have been a long March waiting for the Final Four. These last few days have been so busy, and so enthusiastic with this wonderful series between Spartak Moscow and Ros Casares playing out.
The final result left a wonderful Spanish team, with Valdemoro and Milton-Jones once again on the outside looking in, and instead we get another Russian Semi-Final between Moscow and Ekaterinburg, just like last year. We'll have time to talk about the Russians, but let's try to get to know Sopron and Salamanca better as one of the two will be playing in the final.
Let's go back to October of 2008 and ask ourselves a question: A Spanish club and a Hungarian club will
qualify for the Final Four, name the two teams? Pecs and Valencia would be the wrong answer.
|Gunta Basko and Halcon Avenida could very easily find themselves playing for the EuroLeague Women title.|
EuroLeague Women 2009 is providing fresh talent in European basketball.
Sopron and Salamanca will celebrate their very first time among the top four. It's kind of a revolution to see these emerging powers take out some of the traditional heavyweights. Bourges fell to Sopron and CSKA Moscow and Pecs went down at the hands of Salamanca.
Another thing to take note of is the dominance of the more offensive minded teams in the Quarter-Finals. They say defence wins championships but that might not be the case this year, just ask Bourges, who were killed off by a horrific 1/16 on three-pointers in Sopron.
We talked many times before about Sopron, especially after their hard qualification in the Eighth Final, against Krakow. Do you remember that the young Hungarian team only scored 39 points in Poland? In the Quarter-Final it was a different story as they were above 65 in Bourges and managed 70 at home, against the best defence in EuroLeague Women.
"I still just can't realize we're in the Final Four," says Serbian Jelena Milovanovic.
"We played the perfect game. We played fast, and like a team."
Sopron also managed to stop Dumerc, the heart of Bourges. Next step for Norbert Szekely's babies is the Semi-Final.
Their progress is a good way to prove you can do great things when you give young players time to develop.
Gorbunova left last year, but players like Honti and Horvath stayed to keep a link. Their progress is also a good way to prove you can do great things without big talents from overseas. American forward Amber Holt and Australian point guard Kathleen MacLeod were not the biggest names on the market. Now, being only 23 and 22-years-old, they are a top value, just like Sopron.
And if you think that their 6-4 record in the Qualification Round points to weakness don't forget that they beat CSKA Moscow at home, and that Bourges reached Final Four last season with the same balance.
Salamanca is another new guest at Queen's table. Second in the Spanish League, behind Valencia, Halcon was first of all famous for its fans. Now, they will be famous for their results as well.
"Our fans are the most amazing I've ever seen," explained Gunta Basko.
"They really give us strength, energy, emotion. Even when you feel down in a game, they push you up."
That said they (the fans) can push, but they can't play. Even if the Latvian forward considers them as "a sixth man" they will never score a basket. It's not by chance that Salamanca is here.
"When you start a season, you always expect to reach the Final Four," Basko says.
"But you're never sure. The first game against CSKA gave us confidence."
It was enough to beat the 2005 champion in the Eighth Final, and Pecs 2-0 after that. That means Halcon won in Hungary which is never easy.
"Hundred of fans were waiting for us when we got back." says Basko with a smile.
This is the Latvians first year in Salamanca. Last season, she helped Montpellier to qualify for EuroLeague Women and the French League Final, but she left to reach this well balanced team, built around a core of seven players used most by coach Hernandez. A team with talent, and experience with most players around 28-years-old with the exception of Dominguez who is just 22.
"Our biggest chance is to be a real team." says Basko.
"We're good on the court, and off of the court. The chemistry really worked."
Experience against youth, but a lot of enthusiasm in both side. This unexpected semi-final should be a lot of fun.
Now Avenida is dreaming of a Final Four in Pabellon Wurzburg. A dream which might be a nightmare for their opponents.