|31 March 2014|
|"I like our group, with only Prague being a little bit unknown and we are playing them last" - UMMC head coach Olaf Lange|
They may be overwhelming favourites to finish top of the pile at the EuroLeague Women Final Eight again, but UMMC Ekaterinburg head-coach Olaf Lange suspects it will be even more difficult for the champions this year.
Leading the Russian juggernauts to their first title in a decade during his first season at the helm, Lange gave 5,000 UMMC fans a week to remember last time out.
However, the 2014 Final Eight is likely to be even more intense according to the play-caller.
"The competition has become better, fiercer and thus closer, in the very top segment of EuroLeague Women," claimed Lange.
"Having said that, we will have to wait and see how correct my statement really is, when we all meet at the Final Eight.
"There is obviously a clear dominance of Turkish and Russian teams, with the addition of Prague and a long-time European powerhouse in Bourges."
He continued, "I expect the group play to be more demanding and grinding.
"For the most part, the teams in the groups know each other well from either domestic competition, or the EuroLeague Women regular season and it will be fun.
"I generally never spend much time analysing the groups, as I like to take things as they come.
"However, we always feel that it is an advantage to have played against teams before.
"Hence I like our group, with only Prague being a little bit unknown and we are playing them last."
Lange has only lost three games during his time in the UMMC coaching-seat, but is still yet to taste defeat on home soil.
He watched his team go down at Perfumerias Avenida last season and has lost on the road at both Tango Bourges and Kayseri Kaski spor this year.
Schedule: Nadezhda Orenburg (07/04), Tango Bourges (08/04), ZVVZ USK Prague (09/04)
|Ewelina Kobryn does not always gain the attention she deserves on a stacked UMMC Ekaterinburg roster|
Headline writer: Candace Parker was of course crowned MVP in 2013 and she has not been far away from that same blistering form this season. She has now delivered a double-digit scoring return in an unbelievable 26 of her last 28 games in the competition - something which shows just how much of an offensive powerhouse she is, even on the most stacked roster in the tournament. That is because few teams can guard her and especially that trademark roll to the hoop, something she showcased so devastatingly last year.
‘X-Factor': The defence and discipline of UMMC was brilliant at the Final Eight last season. They locked out teams for fun, keeping every one of their opponents to 45 points or under, with the exception of Fenerbahce who still only managed 56 points in the Final. If Coach Lange can get his players to reach those kind of defensive heights again, then a repeat of their triumph isn't necessarily certain, but with their exceptional firepower at the other end of the court, it looks very, very likely.
Unsung Hero: There aren't any unsung heroes as such on such a talent laden roster as the one UMMC have, but Ewelina Kobryn has slipped under the radar despite a solid season in the paint. She will be looking forward to this event more than most, having sustained an ankle injury last year in the semi-final against Bourges.
Number Crunching: UMMC are the best team at the Final Eight in terms of several statistical categories including points, two-point shooting, three-point shooting, assists and defensive rebounds. Conversely, they are the worst team at grabbing steals.