|Pokey Chatman could say it louder, but not clearer. "Fenerbahce are the top team in Europe," is the coach's opinion of Sparta&K's quarter-final opponents|
***Watch Fenerbahce vs Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje on Eurosport 2, Wednesday at 17.00 CET (delayed)***
By Paul Nilsen
Pokey Chatman certainly isn't underestimating the size of the task ahead in the quarter-finals of EuroLeague Women after labelling Fenerbahce as the best team in Europe.
The coach takes the defending champions to Istanbul looking to keep alive their hopes of extending four successive titles to five but knows they have something of a mountain to climb in the pursuit of that dream.
"What can I say about Fenerbahce that hasn't already been said, and rightfully so?" says Chatman.
"They're the number one team in Europe.
"They're undefeated and they have home court advantage and so this will be a tremendous challenge for our team but it's one we welcome. The players are all familiar with one another and I expect the competition to be fierce.
"I also expect Fenerbahce to have even more focus after losing to Galatasary in their domestic league. I'm sure it will be a source of motivation.
"We have to be ready to match their energy, but also exceed their execution.
"It was a hard fought series with Schio during the Eighth-Finals. I think the key to our success was our consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor. In three games, Schio averaged around 63 points. If we can keep an opponent in the sixties it obviously increases our chances to win.
|Lauren Jackson casts a long shadow over Moscow - she played only in seven games before getting injured, but she's still Sparta&K's leading scorer and rebounder (on average) in EuroLeague Women|
"When it comes to losing key players this year it is the nature of sport. Truly, I only focus on what we have and how to best move forward. Thankfully, the profession is one of adjustments, so we've adjusted and pressed on," the Sparta&K head coach concludes.
This is certainly a sentiment that is sure to raise a smile from the man she assisted to a EuroLeague Women title a couple of seasons ago before eventually wnning the title last year as Head Coach.
For Laszlo Ratgeber and Fenerbahce have also lost star personnel and had to juggle resources this season, although the game remains a mouth-watering prospect, even without the likes of Diana Taurasi, Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor.
Season So Far - Fenerbahce are now the only unbeaten team in the tournament having won all ten games in Group B during the Qualifying Round to finish in pole position while seeing off bitter city rivals Galatasaray 2-0 in the Eighth-Finals.
Domestically, Fenerbahce are locked with Galatasaray at the top with 17-2 records. Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje meanwhile finished second in Group C with 6 wins and 4 losses and took their place in the last eight with a 2-1 series win over Beretta-Famila Schio. They remain second in the Russian league and are still chasing down unbeaten rivals UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The Form - While flawless in Europe, Fenerbahce did lose the big domestic derby to Galatasaray recently while Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje have won four of their last six games in EuroLeague Women.
The Hot Hands - Forty-year-old veteran forward Taj McWilliams came up big time for the visitors during the Eighth-Finals and she looks to be enjoying her basketball as if she was a rookie. While the likes of McCoughtry and Yilmaz have grabbed headlines for Fenerbahce, what about Ivana Matovic? Her percentages have been fantastic this year as has her rebounding while she has only failed to record double-digits in one of her last seven games.
|Angel McCoughtry was brought in with the -almost impossible- task to replace Diana Taurasi and has been doing a great job for Fenerbahce|
The ‘X Factors' - With so much talent on the floor it's difficult to pin-point where this game will be won and lost but you sense both the leadership qualities and experience of Sue Bird and Taj McWilliams will be essential at both ends of the floor for Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje. They suddenly look a much more inexperienced team overall than in previous years and the cool head and class of Bird in particular will be important in the white hot atmosphere of Istanbul.
The visitors are strong on the glass and will need to avoid giving a potent team like Fener second chance points - a bonus they really don't need. If Chatman can get her team playing good perimeter defence to nullify the three-point threat and rebound well defensively, they could well be in business with a clutch player like Bird on offence.
For Fenerbahce, it might be a case of simply dealing with a not insignificant weight of expectation as Final Four gets within touching distance. Composure and sticking to what they do well will be important and making sure dominant players like McCoughtry for instance don't take more shots than are required.
What They Say - Fenerbahce coach Laszlo Ratgeber, "The team in which Sue Bird plays is always the team to beat. She is definitively the biggest name in EuroLeague Women right now although not only the name. When she came back in January she gave the necessary energy and organisation to the team which they lacked during November and December. Playing without her was probably the reason for the low seed and the eighth place. However it is their substitutes who are the ones we need to take care of because they are not nobodies.
Sonja Petrovic is one of the most talented young European players with a fantastic instinct for scoring and assisting. She is also a great rebounder and coming back after injuries she is the real deal along with Ilona Korstin. My teams have played more than 20 games against Korstin teams and she is always showing us she is a player for the big games.
They have also got Taj McWilliams, another experienced American player. It's been noticeable their inside game has improved a lot with her - as evidenced in the third Schio game. Osipova is another great player for big games, a player with five EuroLeague Women titles, Jelena Milovanovic is a player that can beat every team in Europe with her outside shooting while Natalia Vieru could be a starter with her talent and size on any other European club which is not in the last eight of the tournament.
Did You Know? - Fenerbahce are the most prolific team in EuroLeague Women while Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje are the best rebounders.