|Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org.|
In a week when some parts of the world celebrated Halloween, there was a premature haunting in EuroLeague Women. Taking his new team Wisla Can Pack to Spain, Coach Jose Hernandez returned to haunt Salamanca by picking up that terrific win (I heard the quality of the scouting report was pretty good by the way!). However having received his treat, the Spanish play-caller was then more the victim of a Halloween trick as his side then lost on their home court in domestic action over the weekend against another EuroLeague Women team Lotos Gdynia to fall further behind in the title race.
I Had To Look Twice
Speaking of Halloween and horror shows, what was your reaction when you saw the final and very frightening 80 point margin of victory for Ros Casares at home to TTT Riga? Even I was hiding behind the curtains after seeing that one. You really had to feel sorry for the younger TTT Riga players who buckled under a relentless and ruthless offensive deluge. It was a tough experience for them to have to take while you had to also sympathise a little with Spanish star Cindy Lima. Not exactly an ideal trip home!
The Class Acts
Diana Taurasi picked up where she left off last season for Spartak Moscow Region.
I guess it would be remiss of me not to start this section with probably the most in-form player anywhere in the world. Yes, there was plenty of excitement around the return to action of recently crowned WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi and with top billing ahead of game one, she didn't disappoint with a typically masterful contribution. Someone asked me what I would do to stop her in EuroLeague Women this season if I was an opposing Coach and short of using some rope and a chair to restrain her for the duration of the game, I couldn't think of much else!
Italian playmaker Laura Macchi meanwhile was also typically instrumental in securing a victory for Beretta-Famila Schio as she drained a triple down the stretch to take a big road win in Pecs.
In terms of classy team performances, I thought that the debut of Rivas Ecopolis in the competition was hugely impressive. Their ball movement was excellent and they showed they have a real vibrancy to their approach. They could actually be difficult to match up with for a lot of teams since they really share the load around and don't rely on just two or three big names. I was particularly impressed with Clara Bermejo-Moreno and Anna Cruz who played beautifully last Thursday night in Madrid and shared 18 assists with the former claiming 12 of them as they put Gorzow to the sword.
Moving from clubs debuting in the competition to individuals, there aren't many players who step out onto the floor to take their EuroLeague Women bow at the age of 21 and manage to claim a fantastic double-double - especially in a tough environment like Ekaterinburg. Step forward Quanitra Hollingsworth of TEO Vilnius who might have been on the wrong end of a rather predictable result but nevertheless claimed a massive 17 points and 15 rebounds which I suspect gave Coach Paulauskas reason for a wry smile as he left Russia, perhaps knowing that he might have just landed a real gem in the young Minnesota Lynx center. Having apparently felt a sense of disappointment after her first WNBA season, that could definitely be to the advantage of TEO Vilnius as she maybe unleashes some of that frustration on EuroLeague Women this year.
So Near Yet So Far
There were plenty of fight backs but it was noticeable that a couple of big ones just came up short including Mizo Pecs who were down by double digits to Schio and clawed their way back to 55-55 with just over half a minute left but fell to that dagger by Macchi. Newcomers Szeviep of Hungary meanwhile almost ruined the return of Tarbes to the big stage as they wiped out a 14 point deficit but were also just pipped as they fell 81-80.
It was nice to see some of the rising stars make an impression in the first round and while Quanitra Hollingsworth blew everyone away with her personal efforts, there was an impressive cameo in Lille from 20 year old forward Ana Cata-Chitiga who came off the bench to claim a creditable 10 points and 5 rebounds. The other noticeable contribution came from Pecs center Sara Krnjic who might have been on the losing team but at just 18 years old, the Serbian had huge faith put in her to further underline her recent progress. She played 27 minutes and while cursing her 7 turnovers (perhaps to be expected from any young player at this level) she did pull down 6 boards and claim 9 points.
Influential Brno guard Zuzana Zirkova tore a fibular muscle in her left leg during the game at Spartak Moscow Region and the classy Slovak Republic national team star reportedly faces the prospect of around two months on the sidelines. In a tight looking group that is pretty bad luck for the Czech Republic giants and it will be interesting to see how they are affected by her absence during the Qualifying Round.
All Eyes Forward
As a journalist or indeed a fan, you just have to regularly deal with the frustration of not being able to watch every single game because believe me, I wish I could. However I have looked at the second round fixtures and my interest has been whittled down to a few games where I will be either watching or checking out the details before any others.
I think after that incredible score-line between Ros Casares and TTT Riga I will be paying particular attention to their respective games this week and in particular to see how the latter respond to such a mauling.
Equally I think that Rivas Ecopolis have a great test of their ambitions and true level in Prague against a USK side that seems to be developing nicely and that could be a really attractive game of Rivas perform.
Similarly I wonder if UMMC Ekaterinburg and Spartak Moscow Region can be dominant away from home as they take to the road for the first time offering a fantastic test for both Cras Basket Taranto and Fenerbahce respectively.
It just never lets up and we have only just got started!