Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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The shifting sand of who is favourite to be crowned EuroLeague Women champion has been one of the real features of this year's competition.
In recent years, it's been more of a closed field both before and during the season with Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje and UMMC Ekaterinburg regularly the overwhelming frontrunners with the former certainly having delivered in stark contrast to the latter.
During pre-season, it would be fair to say that Ekat retained their perennial position as one of the main favourites but now with more injuries to contend with and after yet another loss, they are already being written off in many quarters. This is of course possible but despite their troubles, I do wonder if being written off and dismissed in the wake of being pretty much thrashed by Ros Casares might just suit them.
For me, this latest setback for Ekat is probably a defining moment, at least from a psychological point of view. They can crumble and become the victim of a surprise in the play-offs, or, they can appreciate that while lacking some firepower right now due to injuries, they still have the tools and experience to find a way to dig out the wins they need. I certainly wouldn't be dismissing them just yet.
I remember issuing a warning about the same thing in relation to Fenerbahce ahead of this season when even their own fans seemed to be less than optimistic in terms of their prospects. It was completely farcical as I pointed out at the time and as I expected, they have prevailed. Indeed they have been the most consistent team and as the only unbeaten team in the tournament, Fener are probably now co-favourites with Ros Casares.
But Fener, be warned. Absolutely nothing is won in February and EuroLeague Women can ruthlessly pull the rug from beneath your feet at any time. Complacency and perhaps even superstition of when that first loss may arrive could pose the biggest danger to Fenerbahce - along with the dreaded spectre of potential injuries. I guess they are just too full of confidence and belief now to worry about anything.
|Any team Diana Taurasi plays on needs to be considered a favourite in the competition|
Galatasaray Medical Park meanwhile is another team like Ekat to have been on a real roller-coaster this season. It hasn't been rocket science to identify right from the very outset, the significant gamble they were taking in pouring their vast resources into one or two star names rather than going for depth. I think I previously warned that if and when the inevitable injuries struck, their fragile and short looking roster might be in trouble. Sadly, injuries have indeed hit hard and while they dug out the win against Bourges, they need to be healthy and deeper to have the best shot. Not that I'm saying they can't win it in their current position since anything is possible. Let's wait to see what they do (if anything) during the next couple of weeks ahead of the transfer deadline. I can't believe sitting on their hands and hoping the stellar talent of Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles can pull them through is even an option.
Ros Casares has been another elite team which has experienced some real highs and lows. In their case, I had previously expressed some reservations about the structure of their roster but the way they completed the double over Ekat in rather ruthless fashion is a real peak in their season and things seem to finally be coming together. You surely now have to label the Spanish giants as co-favourites but they will know plenty can change in the next couple of months.
Meanwhile the likes of Sparta&K might just have something to say if we are too quick to turn this into a two or three horse race. It's still an open competition - even if Ros and Fener are out in front just now.
Delight for Delisha
Last week I spoke about Ann Wauters, a bona-fide legend of not only EuroLeague Women but also women's basketball. Seven days later, I am thrilled to be able to repeat the sentiments in relation to DeLisha Milton-Jones who followed in the footsteps of Wauters by passing the 2,500 points barrier after securing the tally she needed for ZVVZ USK Prague against Uni Seat Gyor. The forward becomes the first non-European to reach this landmark and having described it as ‘monumental', I certainly wouldn't disagree!
Class On The Glass
Congratulations are due to a trio of smooth operators on the glass this week. Bourges Basket forward Emmeline Ndongue and Fenerbahce duo Nevriye Yilmaz and Ivana Matovic all managed to harvest the necessary rebounds required to reach the landmark of 600 rebounds in EuroLeague Women - another great achievement to admire for three of Europe's top frontcourt players.
Play-Offs Begin To Take Shape
With one week of action left in Round 1, the play-offs are beginning to take shape as people try to work out potential match-ups, something which will of course be confirmed next week. For the record, the ranking of the clubs qualified for Round 2 will be determined as a win/loss percentage but only with results against the top five clubs in each respective group being taken into account. In the event any clubs have the same win/loss percentage, then the goal average (as stated in Section D of the Official basketball rules) will be used as the next criteria.
Weak At The Knees
ACL are three collective letters I really don't want to see anymore. When UMMC Ekaterinburg shooter Anete Jekabsone went down in the FIBA Europe televised game this week, there was another sharp intake of breath from me, fearing the worst. Unfortunately it appears that the diagnosis has confirmed the Latvian star will be ruled out for the season.
Coming hard on the back of Galatsasaray Medical Park duo Dürdane Gümüsay and Alba Torrens suffering serious knee injuries last week, it's been a really bad time for both the players concerned and for fans of EuroLeague Women who won't get to see them in action again until next season.
Meanwhile we anxiously wait for news on Jelena Milovanovic who left the court prematurely with a serious looking foot injury which will have both Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje fans worried as well as supporters of the Serbian national team.
PAULBALL WEEK 13 PICKS
Performance Of The Week: Ros Casares winning so emphatically and impressively in Russia makes this accolade a no-brainer this week - especially since it was their first victory in Ekaterinburg.
|Crucial cameo: Zane Tamane|
The Crucial Cameo: Angel McCoughtry grabbed the headlines for Fener as they maintained their perfect record with a super road win in Orenburg against Nadezhda but the cameo contribution of eight rebounds and a highly efficient four of five floor shooting by Zane Tamane was critical.
Rising Star Watch: It was arguably the quietest week of the season so far for rising stars in the tournament.
Stats Don' Lie: Three of the top five rebounding performance during the current campaign has come when Frisco Brno have been the opponent. Gospic CO claimed 56 rebounds against the Czech club this week which was the third most of the season. CCC Pokowice forward Iva Perovanovic became the third player to score 32 points in a game this season in the overtime win at Tarbes Gespe Bigorre.
It's not surprising Edwige Lawson was MVP of this round since she posted the second best perimeter shooting performance of the tournament this season making all five of her attempts from downtown. In the same game, Good Angels Kosice playmaker Miljana Bojovic registered eight assists in a game for the third time this season.