|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.|
EuroLeague Women Final Four is where everybody wants to be and history has shown that reputation counts for nothing at this all important quarter-final stage. Only performances on the court and getting those two big wins matter now.
One man who certainly knows what it takes to go all of the way is the last coach to win the title and I grabbed Laszlo Ratgeber to get the lowdown as part of my quarter-final previews.Game 9 - Spartak Moscow Region versus Fenerbahce
Ratgeber Verdict: "In my opinion, Spartak Moscow Region are the runaway favourites although Fenerbahce are a good team and one with the great traditions. They also have some great players like Penny Taylor. However, I do think my former club will march on to the Final Four."
Nilsen Prediction - 2-0 Spartak Moscow Region
Game 10 Wisla Can-Pack versus Frisco Sika Brno
A friend of mine explained this was the ‘lucky coin' series. Lucky because both clubs have avoided the two Russian teams and Ros Casares while apparently you had might as well throw a coin up in the air to predict the outcome of this series. With two of the most experienced coaches in the tournament going head to head, it will be just as riveting watching their respective moves on the sidelines as it will be watching the action on court!
Dewanna Bonner grabbed the headlines after those two wonderful victories in Madrid by Brno but perhaps it will be Hana Horakova who could be the real danger. Since the injuries to Zhirkova and Kulichova she has found herself more and more in her favourite position on the wing and has exploited this expertly. Once again her shooting performances will be vital. Coach Bobrovsky keeps a tight and effective rotation but if one of his main players is cold, goes down injured or gets into foul trouble, there is arguably a lack of depth and I will be interested to see his Plan B!
For Wisla, I guess the message is to just to keep doing what they have done all year. They are not the greatest shooting team in the world so will probably get zoned and there will be a reliance on moving the ball with Fernandez and Cohen asked to make the killer passes. They have a powerhouse in Burse, a potential game-winner in Castro-Marques, the solidity of Kobryn, depth off the bench in the likes of Zohnova and Majewska and the inspirational Fernandez to rely on. For that reason I am tipping Krakow to prevail.Series X Factor - The defensive rebounding of Wisla. They have done a phenomenal job in not giving up second chance points to their opponents. As Brno are strong on the offensive glass, this will be a key battle. The emphasis is on the home team to continue taking away second chance opportunities and if they do this, I feel Brno will just come up short offensively.
Player To Watch - Having spent five seasons playing in Euroleague Women for Wisla Can-Pack, there will be one player with more than a little extra motivation to get to the Final Four. Jelena Skerovic was upset with the decision to cut her and the Polish club will be hoping the guard doesn't return to haunt them. While she hasn't exactly been on fire this season for her new team - what better place to really explode and drop some bombs on her former team?
Ratgeber Verdict: Wisla Can-Pack have really played very well during the whole of this EuroLeague Women season while Frisco Siko Brno are now playing much better than last season. I have seen a lot of games involving these two teams and once again, Krakow will have the home-court advantage in the series which was of course decisive against Mizo Pecs. However, Brno can win this duel if Zirkova and Kulichova return back to the team!"
Nilsen Prediction - 2-1 Wisla Can-Pack (Can you believe I am arguing with the reigning ELW winning coach?)
Game 11 UMMC Ekaterinburg versus Good Angels Kosice
Good Angels Kosice have been one of the form teams of this competition since their dreadful start and it is easy to dismiss this as a David versus Goliath battle but is this the reality? Stefan Svitek in my opinion is one genuine candidate at this stage for Coach of the Year but more of that in a future Paulball! Apart from the obvious talent of Candice Dupree and Angel McCoughtry, Svitek has a team that hustles and works harder than any other in ELW. The outstanding aspect of their game has been the hustle all over the floor and ability to get buckets in transition from steals. Unfortunately they have been dealt a blow with news Katarina Hrickova is likely to be out for six months with a broken hand.
Meanwhile co-favourites Ekat just keep squeezing the life out of their opponents and that won't stop - in fact it will only get more intense. They should end the marvellous run of Kosice with relative ease since their superior defence and experience should smother the threat of Dupree and McCoughtry sufficiently to pick up two double-digit wins and get the job done early.Series X Factor - It has to be the supporting cast of Kosice. The likes of Kupcikova and Musovic have shown their value and highlighted there is more to the Slovakian team than merely Dupree and McCoughtry. However now is the ultimate test against the best defence in ELW and also because Hrickova is likely to be missing too. If Good Angels Kosice are to even compete, then the devastating duo need support again in terms of scoring. If those third and fourth scorers don't materialise then a potential shock will be a non-starter.
Player To Watch - Agnieszka Bibrzycka has explained how desperately she wants to win EuroLeague Women and with the defence of Ekat not a problem, she will continue to be the player to provide the all important offensive power down the other end of the floor. ‘Biba' has had an excellent season and can you believe that the last game against Galatasaray was the only time she has failed to reach double digits this season? A class performer who has it all and one of the main reasons Ekat are the best perimeter shooting team in the tournament.
Ratgeber Verdict: "For me, this match up probably looks the most one-sided although Good Angels Kosice have had a surprisingly good season but nevertheless you have have to still say that of course, UMMC Ekaterinburg are huge favourites."
Nilsen Prediction - 2-0 UMMC Ekaterinburg
Game 13 Ros Casares versus Halcon AvenidaI don't think may people would disagree that this is the tie of the round. A superb match-up between both of the two giants of Spanish basketball with both teams having picked up important wins against each other domestically so far this season.
Player To Watch - Amaya Valdemoro has slipped right back into the groove since returning from her injury and you get the sense that she could explode for a twenty plus haul in one of these games, particularly with a few more minutes to be dished out after the departure of Hammon. She brings energy and a vibrancy that makes her the heartbeat to go with the irrepressible backbone of this team that is none other than Delisha Milton.
Ratgeber Verdict: "Everything is stacked in the favour of Ros Casares in this Spanish derby with the exception that Halcon Avenida have already won during the regular season in Valencia and Ros Casares were very lucky to win the Copa Del Reina against the team from Salamanca. It is not only the home court advantage but also the quantity of quality-star players, that favours Valencia to progress to the Final Four in this series."
Nilsen Prediction - 2-1 Ros Casares