|Marianna Tolo has been one of the most consistent inside players in the regular season|
TOLO A TOWER OF STRENGTH
The Australian Opals are blessed with some incredible frontcourt players and that is best evidenced by the fact that Marianna Tolo has found herself in a queue to represent her country. But, I can't believe that head coach Brendan Joyce can overlook the Tango Bourges center when he names his roster for the FIBA World Championship later this year. She has been an absolute tower of strength for Bourges and a perfect fit since her arrival last summer. She is tough defensively and offers superb offensive efficiency.
Here is a stat to underline her amazing consistency: in her nine games this season, Tolo hasn't had a single off-night and has never failed to shoot 50% or less from the field. So, if I have been raving about Jantel Lavender of late, you can now put Tolo into the equation for a potential pivot berth in my 12-player star roster of the regular season (more on that next week). Additionally, whilst Bourges' quarter-final opponents Good Angels Kosice are a dangerous unit and could yet figure out how to beat the French club, I can actually see Valerie Garnier taking her team all the way to the semi-finals again this season. I hope that isn't the kiss of death for them, but they are just so tough and having overcome their early season struggles, they look like a unit that nobody will be able to take liberties with.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Rivas Ecopolis may well have been without their Spanish national team duo Queralt Casas and Laura Gil at UE Sopron in their dramatic 81-79 overtime loss. However, Igor Polenek lifted the hosts above their Spanish rivals and into fourth place in Group B. That is a superb achievement and this win also stood out for it's thrilling nature. There was also one of those oddities in that Rivas won the very first game of the regular season with a buzzer beater (in Krakow) and ended their schedule by being on the wrong end of one!
SLIDING ONTO THE RADAR
|Daria Namok had a career-high nine points for Sparta&K MR Vidnoje|
Normally reserved for rising stars, there's no other place to begin this time than with Slovak Republic legend Zuzana Zirkova who finally returned to the elite level and slid back onto the radar after a two year absence by racking up over 20 minutes of court time for Good Angel Kosice at Bourges.
At the other end of the spectrum, it was good to see so many young players competing in the game in Vidnoje. Daria Namok scored a career-high nine points in the competition and her 17-year-old Sparta&K team-mate Kseniia Levchenko handed out five assists which was another career high. Alexander Vasin also gave a EuroLeague Women debut to another young guard in Marina Riavkina. In the same game, WBC Novi Zagreb gave court-time to a trio of 16-year-olds in Tihana Stojsavljevic, Anja Kukolja and the youngest of all - playmaker Ivana Dojkic, who grabbed a career-high 24 minutes. All three are likely to be included in the Croatian team which will play in the U18 European Championship Women this year, with Dojkic possibly tussling once again with Levchenko.
The play-off seedings, followed by the confirmed play-off match-ups are always a delicious curiosity. This year, there seems to be diluted cross-contamination between teams from the first phase groups. Initially I thought this was disappointing in some ways, but the more that I think about it, perhaps shocks and unpredictability are heightened by clubs renewing their ongoing rivalries. Whether it is Tango Bourges against Good Angels Kosice, Nadezhda playing Wisla Can-Pack or Galatasaray odeabank facing Perfumerias Avenida, familiarity can often bring teams closer together - even if there is a clear gap in quality or it is a three-game series. I am so excited for these play-offs, although having said all of that, the only one lower seed I would see beating a higher seed with confidence is Famila Schio, who face Kayseri Kaski spor.
|Alena Hanusová ended her European season having made 39 consecutive free throws|
Reigning champions UMMC will have to wait 40 days between games in the tournament due to their non-involvement in the play-offs.
UMMC have now won their last six games against Italian opposition.
Bourges center Marianna Tolo is 14-of-16 from the floor across her last two outings and grabbed a EuroLeague Women career-high four blocks against Kosice this week.
You can follow Paul @basketmedia365 for women's basketball tweets.