|14 June 2013|
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Sandrine Gruda (centre) and Isabelle Yacoubou (right) will be key components of the French ensemble this month|
We finish our tournament preview by looking at the action due to take place in Trelaze as teams in Groups C and D, fight it out to advance to the second stage in Mouilleron-le-captif.
LES BLEUES TIPPED TO DOMINATE
Odds-on favourites to coast to pole position in Group C, France, won't be taking anything for granted, despite looking imperious during preparation. With the majestic left-handed craft of Celine Dumerc, a smooth frontcourt operator in Sandrine Gruda, a defensive anchor in Emmeline Ndongue and the power of Isabelle Yacoubou, they have depth and quality.
However, they must deal with expectation and avoid freezing in front of partisan support. Their opponents may wilt against their deep rotation, but may also be inspired to find a little extra in the pursuit of a seismic scale upset.
Serbia have no fewer than seven debutantes on board, but no lack of experience due to the participation of kingpin Jelena Milovanovic, veteran center Ivanka Matic and the dynamic Milica Dabovic. The core of the Serbian team looks solid and they have instant offence in Ana Dabovic, who can be dangerous if she finds early scoring rhythm.
Arriving because of a strong team ethic and an array of important cameo performances last summer, these are two factors which could again be key ingredients for Serbian success.
Combo guard Elina Babkina is the main cog in the Latvian wheel and must excel to get her injury-hit side rolling. Their frontcourt is under-baked to say the least, with injuries to both Aija Putnina and Sabine Niedola following on from Zane Tamane and Ieva Kublina opting to retire.
Liene Jansone and Aija Brumermane will have to play smart and get through plenty of work on the glass, although tournament debutante Anete Steinberga could possibly make a splash. The three-point shooting of Ieva Krastina is likely to be a big factor if Latvia want to make it to the second stage.
Great Britain breathed a sigh of relief when prize asset Johannah Leedham confirmed she would be stepping out on French soil, just like last season with Bourges. She's likely to be the main source of points production and a leading figure defensively due to her quick hands and transition scores.
A big contribution from Mersin forward Chantelle Handy would be welcomed by new head coach Damian Jennings, whilst Stefanie Collins brings veteran know-how to the backcourt and Kimberly Butler offers the same under the hoop for the underdogs.
THE MOST FINELY BALANCED GROUP?
|Welcome Back: The return of Yelena Leuchanka is a massive boost for the Belarusians |
From the moment it was drawn, Group D had an air of unpredictability about it and fine margins could decide who advances. EuroBasket Women 2011 ended in tears for Belarus, but they could bounce back with real aplomb after head coach Rimantas Grigas galvanised the players.
Whilst losing Tatyana Troina will hurt, the return of Yelena Leuchanka and in-form Anastasiya Verameyenka makes Belarus look a dominant defensive presence down low. But can the backcourt and wing players such as Tatsiana Likhtarovich and Katsiaryna Snytsina can keep the scoreboard ticking over sufficiently?
Czech Republic play-caller Lubor Blazek will know underwhelming preparations results won't matter if his team come alive now. Without the retired Hana Horakova and resting Eva Viteckova, the return of veteran Veronika Bortelova offsets a lack of experience in the backcourt. As does Katerina Elhotova, who is still relatively young, but has plenty of tournaments under her belt as she seeks to end a dip in shooting form.
The frontcourt is like granite, built around the experienced Jana Vesela, Ilona Burgrova and Petra Kulichova who can excel on the boards, whilst the promising Alena Hanusova adds further depth to the rotation.
Algirdas Paulauskas has a tough ask to take Lithuania to the quarter-finals again due to a lengthy roll-call of absentee players - not least Sandra Linkeviciene and Ausra Bimbaite. However, it does give the chance for several 1989-1991 born players to turn the page and confirm their status as new leaders.
Center Ginatre Petronyte who was scintillating in qualification, averaging double-digits in both scoring and rebounding. Giedre Paugaite could form a potent partnership in the forward spot, whilst Kamile Nacickaite and Inesa Visgaudaite look capable of producing the goods in the backcourt.
Finally, Croatia have the core of their team back from the last two summers. The recovery of Andja Jelavic from injury is important and she will share playmaking responsibilities with Iva Ciglar, who played in France last season. With Sandra Mandir having retired, perhaps Antonija Misura can pick up some of the scoring slack, or maybe new faces Matea Vrdoljak or Monika Bosilj will thrive.
With Ana Lelas and Jelena Ivezic a formidable forward duo and the trio of Luca Ivankovic, Marija Rezan and Iva Sliskovic, all excellent options at center, Croatia have good reason to be quietly confident they can continue their impressive momentum.