|Avenida head coach Lucas Mondelo (left) and assistant coach Alberto Miranda during the last EuroLeague Women game in 2010, against Tarbes|
As we near the end of the long Christmas break, even the most avid EuroLeague Women fan will have trouble remembering everything we've seen so far in this action-packed first half of the season, let alone keeping up with all the changes that took place during the break.
No problem, that's what the experts are for! As soon as they had their New Year's Eve grapes, (12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, as per Spanish tradition), we asked the coaching duo of Group C leaders Halcon Avenida to sum up for us what caught their eye in the 2010 part of the competition.
On an individual level, was there any player who surprised you in either a positive or negative way so far this season?
Maybe it's not a revelation because she was already very good last season, but Dewanna Bonner's performance so far is pretty impressive.
She was the "executioner" of Rivas Ecopolis in last year's Eighth-Final Play-Offs and is now wearing the Rivas shirt.
Dewanna is averaging almost a double-double in points and rebounds (19.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg).
She brings an enormous versatility to the team, as she is able to play in both frontcourt and backcourt positions while also contributing great defence.
We know that only too well, since we fell victims of her game just before Christmas! (Avenida suffered their first defeat in the domestic league against Rivas, just before the Christmas break)
On the negative side, the knee operation that Seimone Augustus underwent meant that she came back a different player; she is less explosive and has to depend much more on her outside shooting.
She had stellar performances two years ago with Galatasaray in EuroCup Women, where she averaged more than 20 points per game and led her team to the title.
It's not like she's not been playing well in EuroLeague Women, but we were expecting a much more decisive player.
And on a team level, which team surprised you positively or did not meet your expectations during the first eight weeks?
The revelation of the season so far has to be Cras Basket Taranto.
|The Salamanca coaching duo are impressed with spanish rivals Rivas' Dewanna Bonner|
They lead their group with 7-1 and they are on course to be the third seeded team in the Eighth-Final Play-Offs.
It's not that we didn't expect them to be a good team, but their performance once the season started has exceeded expectations.
Their roster is very well balanced, it doesn't feature any American superstars but Brooke Smith, who has just been transferred to Tarbes and was replaced by Sophia Young, has been sensational in her first year in EuroLeague Women.
They have two point guards (Greco and Wambe) playing together for most of the time on the floor to impose their offensive tempo and, most importantly, play an excellent defence - they only concede 54 points per game!
If they maintain this defensive intensity in the play-offs, they will be a nightmare opponent for any team!
The other case - although of course it's hard to speak of a surprise when you see the names on their roster- is that of Fenerbahce, which has created great expectations, especially after defeating Ekaterinburg in Russia.
With players like Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi (she has since been replaced by Angel McCoughtry) leading the backcourt or Ivana Matovic and Nevrije Yilmaz in the frontcourt, they were a team to be feared.
They play with great motivation and try to provoke the opponent's turnover for 40 minutes non-stop. They are a force to be reckoned with.
There is no team that has let us down, simply because this is a very tough competition where anyone can beat anyone else, especially at home.
It's true however there are three teams that we were expecting they'd have a better record at this stage, Sparta&K, Galatasaray and Nadezhda.
They started worse than expected, according to the potential of their respective rosters, but they seem to have found their way and are improving lately, especially Nadezhda which were 4-1 in the last five weeks and are back in the qualification race.
Have you noticed anything new or important from a tactical point of view? What differentiates this season from past editions?
The introduction of the new regulations has brought a substantial change to the game.
Moving back the three-point line had as a consequence a slight drop in shooting percentages, with the new accumulated average from behind the line dropping to 34%, from 36%.
To compensate for the drop, most teams have increased the number of possessions by being more intense in defence and stealing more balls, while at the same time trying to pay more attention when in possession, to minimize turnovers.
In spite of this, the points per possession ratio has also dropped a little, we now get 96.6 instead of 98.4 points for every 100 possessions.
Another aspect that marked this edition of EuroLeague Women was that it started immediately after the World Championship, which took place in September.
This affected greatly the tactical development of all teams and especially the top ones, whose international players lost most of or even the entire preseason.
After the Christmas break, we're definitely going to see new things compared to the first half of the season and for sure a more developed from a tactical point of view game, not to mention the transfers and additions that will make some already competitive teams even better.
All this makes this year's EuroLeague Women the most closely disputed edition in living memory, with a number of teams with excellent rosters, capable of going all the way.
In terms of roster and performance so far, there are three clear favourites for the Final Four: UMMC Ekaterinburg, Fenerbahce and, despite the slow start, Sparta&K.
Then there is a second group made up by Ros Casares, Wisla Can-Pack, Cras Basket Taranto, Good Angels Kosice, Famila Schio, Bourges or Perfumerias Avenida, teams which have enough talent and potential to beat anybody in a three-game series.
Is there a secret to Avenida's impressive form in both EuroLeague Women and the Spanish league?
We are lucky enough to have on our team players who are generous, capable to work for the good of the team at any given moment.
The assimilation and development of tactical concepts has been very fast till now and we were able to make the best of the available expertise of our players in the WNBA and on national team level, we built upon this basis a collective mentality that hard work in defence will guide us to our goals.
If we add to this the fact that we've been so far quite lucky in avoiding important injuries, we could say we're on the right path.