Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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It was so typical of the intense, thrilling and unforgiving competition which is EuroLeague Women that the fight for the last spot in Istanbul went right down to the wire.
Yes, the match-up between Rivas Ecopolis and Bourges Basket was epic and while sometimes quality was sacrificed in a war of attrition, I thought it was an absorbing and fascinating series and couldn't take my eyes off it from the first tip until the buzzer sounded in game three as Rivas finally made a run to see off their rivals.
It was a real chess game between the respective coaches who unashamedly went with what they knew, neither willing to take a gamble with the stakes so high. Rivas play-caller Miguel Mendez in particular resisted calling upon the likes of Tijana Krivacevic in any big way for example and went for a water-tight six player rotation with a trusted quartet of Anna Cruz, Asjha Jones, Essence Carson, Elisa Aguilar all being asked to play 34 minutes or more during game three - although of course the absence of Amaya Valdemoro contributed to this. Ironically, I thought it was actually Laura Nicholls and Sandra Pirsic (who effectively shared the fifth spot) who were the difference makers with their defence critical in containing a strong Bourges frontcourt.
As for the French club, well I believe more than any other team and even current champions Perfumerias Avenida, they will regret having missed a glorious opportunity to advance. At many times in the series they got their noses in front but couldn't make it count and I thought it was the small details which proved so, so costly. The occasional missed lay-up at a critical moment, below-par free-throw shooting, some missed defensive assignments but more than anything, too many needless fouls in areas of non-danger which bailed out Rivas and eventually put them on the line.
Still, congratulations to both teams on serving up a really enjoyable series which just had me wishing it was a best of five although I am not sure what that would further excitement and nerves have done for everyone's respective heart rates and blood pressure!
My eyes were reading the news that Stefan Svitek had been fired by Good Angels Kosice but I admit my brain was struggling to process the information. It just didn't make sense. Partiuclarly since I would argue very strongly that even in defeat during Round 2 to UMMC Ekaterinburg and consequently missing out on Istanbul, I still firmly believe Good Angels Kosice punched way above their weight this season and performed beyond their potential.
But as with all of these things, and I point to the dismissal of Natalia Hejkova at Ros Casares earlier in the campaign as an example, it's not easy to judge from outside the tent when you don't have a rounded view of what is happening inside.
Irrespective of what I or anybody else might think, if communication and specifically mutual trust has evaporated between the General Manager and head coach, the future is almost inevitably doomed to failure and it always makes sense for both parties to move on before a potentially poisonous relationship festers and affects the players.
In the case of what has happened at the Good Angels, I actually think there are huge challenges ahead for both Coach Svitek and Daniel Jendrichovsky. While it might look slightly easier for the former since he can focus on the Hungary National Team role, it could be that should he get another post with a EuroLeague Women team in the future, then the pressure and expectation will be on him more than ever before after his success with Kosice. As for the latter, it's clear Jendrichovsky has a mountain to climb to secure the continued progression of the club since Svitek has been so central to the wonderful strides made on the court. Interesting times ahead indeed and good luck to them in this new chapter.
Nothing against Nadezhda I am sure but I had a few people send me messages saying they hoped Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje would make the Final Eight since they felt the end of the season just wouldn't be the same without them there. It's very harsh on Nadezhda or indeed on any team who might have met the Moscow club during Round 2 but it's probably true that had Sparta&K not handled the pressure to book their spot, it would have undeniably seemed mightily strange without the perennial finalists trying to reach the podium yet again!
Learning the lessons from history
Now we know the line-up and schedule for Istanbul, I have been inundated with requests from people wanting to know who I think will win the Final Eight. Some people have even given me multiple choices when they asked - Ros Casares or Fenerbahce. Yes, a two-horse race apparently but in my view, absolutely not.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do think these two teams have a slight edge judging by what we have seen in recent months but let me go on record by saying this is a wide open tournament. History is littered with surprises - look no further than Perfumerias Avenida last season.
Meanwhile for those who argue the group format perhaps limits the potential for an upset compared to the more ruthless knockout basketball, I point to the likes of Croatia and Montenegro last year at EuroBasket Women who bolted out of the shadows and into the limelight with some huge shocks - within a tournament format.
I will break down the Final Eight in more detail soon but my gut reaction is that while I would not be surprised if Ros Casares won it, I would also not be surprised if there were big upsets and we had another unfancied champion emerge - just like Salamanca 12 months ago.
There's only one guarantee as far as I am concerned - it's going to be a spectacular and passionate five days of EuroLeague Women action and a wonderful advert for women's basketball.
PAULBALL ROUND 2 PICKS
|Liron Cohen had her best game of the season when it mattered most for Beretta-Famila|
Performance Of The Week - I handed Beretta-Famila Schio the accolade for their game one display in Salamanca and I am following that up with another award for their game two performance which clinched their spot around the Final Eight table and dumped out the defending champions. What impressed me most is that they could have easily cracked mentally during game two but stayed strong to see the game out.
The Crucial Cameo - Janel McCarville and Laura Macchi quite deservedly grabbed the headlines for Schio but it was arguably the cameo of Liron Cohen which helped rubber-stamp victory. The Italian club needed a third scorer and with the experienced duo of Raffaela Masciadri and Cheryl Ford misfiring, the Israeli guard stepped up and claimed 17 points, making all eight of her foul shots. She also dished up five assists and harvested three priceless steals.
Stats Don't Lie - Having played 12 quarters of play-off basketball against Rivas, the lowest scoring quarter for Bourges came in the decisive fourth period during game three. Sparta&K made a perfect 14 from 14 free throws in the decider against Nadezhda although bizarrely, only two players made it to the line with Becky Hammon and Seimone Augustus taking care of business. Good Angels Kosice only failed to break the 50 point barrier twice this season and it came in their first and last games of the season - both leading to losses. If you ever you wanted proof that scoring isn't essential then look no further than Laura Nicholls who didn't score in either win for Rivas but played a combined 47 minutes of tough defence across both home games which was critical.