By Paul Nilsen
The first games of the Quarter-Finals of EuroCup Women brought as much excitement and intrigue as any week of action so far this season - both on and off the court.
Kayseri Kaskispor v Hainaut Basket
The drama away from the floor unfurled in Kayseri where winter storms almost resulted in this game being abandoned but eventually Hainaut arrived at the venue and for the most part, threatened to shrug off their travel woes to claim a super victory.
However, they faded in the final quarter and that proved to be costly as they subsequently went down 68-59 with Nakia Sandford posting 19 points which was a season high and also one of the most efficient shooting performances anywhere this season. The veteran managed to make 9 of her 12 shots.
|Despite their travel woes Petra Stampalija and her Hainaut Basket team-mates almost came away with an upset of Kayseri|
Meanwhile Latoya Sanders claimed a career high 19 rebounds for the Turkish side, 15 of which were defensive and this was the joint best number seen in the tournament. This proved to be hugely important since it was the rebounding which made a big difference in the game.
The French side were trashed 49-30 on the glass and will have to really step up their game in the paint in the return leg if they want to haul back the deficit. Particularly at the defensive end because weak boxing-out led to the hosts claiming 17 offensive rebounds - completely unacceptable if you are coach Corinne Benintendi. Although perhaps the pre-game travelling demands and disrupted preparation might offer some mitigation.
One bright spot for Hainaut was that they did force an experienced team into a gratifying 17 turnovers although perhaps they will need to do a slightly improved job at punishing their opponents in this respect. But, the quick hands and ball pressure of the French team could be a key dynamic in game two when they will be hoping to put Kayseri under some real pressure right from the tip-off.
Gran Canaria v Botas
The task for Botas in reaching the last four always looked to be a relatively straightforward task from a tactical point of view in this match-up - put the chains on the phenomenal Astou Ndour or at least match her under the basket.
One of the frontrunners for the FIBA Young Player Of The Year title, Ndour has been outstanding all season long and it was probably going to take something special to outplay her. But, in the shape of Courtney Paris, the visitors found the special performance needed as the American center posted a monstrous career high double-double of 24 points and 22 rebounds.
The most telling feature of her performance was the aggression she showed in managing to corral 11 offensive rebounds - the joint best performance seen anywhere in EuroCup Women this season. Defensively, Paris was able to do a good job on Ndour who still managed to claim a double-double, even if she had a real struggle to break double digits.
Fellow Spanish prospect Vanessa Ble also grabbed a double-double for the hosts but overall, it was Paris and the visitors who prevailed in a real battle in the paint. This key match-up this set the platform for a critical 67-64 road win and you really had to wonder what another Turkish club and its respective fans must have made of it all.
Naturally Botas is now overwhelming favourites to progress and the biggest worry for the Gran Canaria and their head coach Domingo Diaz Martin is that the Turkish team still won despite posting their worst perimeter shooting display of the season. Considering they are one of the most proficient outside shooters in the tournament, you have to expect this to improve on 1 of 14 during the second game and that could be what is decisive in ending the run of the gallant Spaniards.
But, a sting in the tail is always a danger for Botas who shouldn't allow any complacency to creep in and especially since Gran Canaria already have a double digit second game win to their name on Turkish soil after dismantling Besiktas to book their spot in the last eight.
Arras v Chevakata
There are few teams who know each as well as Arras and Chevakata who in addition to meeting each other in the first round this season, also locked horns in the semi-finals last year with the French team advancing.
After winning their respective home ties against each other earlier in the current campaign, this time it's most definitely advantage to Chevakata after they claimed a vital 80-71 road win thanks mainly to the hosts giving up a disappointing 29 points in the last quarter.
|Anna Petrakova's buzzer beater broke the hearts of the fans of the Slovak fans|
Big factors in the game were Arras being stone cold from downtown in not making a single three-point shot in eight attempts. In terms of bench scoring, they could only muster six points and were 3 of 14 which was an eye watering statistic in a game where Chevakata were not exactly outstanding percentage-wise but still found a valuable 19 points off the bench.
The only big positive for Arras was that they did a great job on the boards although for the neutrals (and maybe even Chevakata coach Olga Shuneykina), it's tough not to scratch your head and wonder how point guard Leilani Mitchell managed to claim a career high 13 rebounds and more than anybody else in the game!
The odds are now stacked against Arras since the Vologda club are unbeaten in their last ten EuroCup Women games at home and you have to go back 13 games to find the last time they lost by double-digits on their own floor when they went down to Besiktas in 2009.
MBK Ruzomberok v Dynamo Kursk
Still punching above their weight, MBK Ruzomberok fans were dealt something of a low blow when Anna Petrakova nailed a last second triple to give Dynamo Kursk an 81-80 win to keep the Russians' unbeaten record intact and simultaneously deny their hosts a famous victory.
Despite the defeat, there was huge pride for the fans in a performance which shows just what kind of high level MBK Ruzomberok are performing at this season - despite limited resources. While they lost the game, you have to hand it to the hosts for another excellent performance.
The Slovak Republic team had plenty of positives to reflect on, including 19 assists in the game although it's probable that their chance of claiming a remarkable scalp has evaporated with a subsequent loss in Kursk now having a slightly inevitable feel to it.
But, they have shown remarkable resilience so far and of course, a surprise is always possible, even if it is only an outside chance.
On the night, Temeka Johnson gave one of the best performances of her career with 22 points, making a terrific seven of eight inside for the visitors while defensively, Kursk managed to do enough in terms of perimeter defence to limit the main weapon of MBK Ruzomberok.
With nothing to lose, it could at least be very interesting if MBK Ruzomberok can drop a high three-point percentage in game two right from the outset.