By Paul Nilsen
|Watch the Group C clash between UMMC Ekaterinburg and USK Prague live and for free on FIBA Europe TV Wednesday 14:00 CET|
Unbeaten UMMC Ekaterinburg have enjoyed a stunning first half of the season, but General Manager Maxim Rybakov isn't taking anything for granted as the favourites continue their quest to land a first EuroLeague Women title in a decade.
With seven wins from seven games and the only team in the competition yet to taste defeat, it's perhaps only complacency which will catch out Ekat between now and the end of the regular season.
This week, they welcome a dangerous ZVVZ USK Prague side who are fighting to make the play-offs, but Rybakov admitted that nothing truly matters until crunch time when Ekat will host the Final Eight.
He said, "I can say lots of good words about each member of our team, but it seems to me a little too early to do so, whilst still only in the middle of the road.
"All our work now is to be prepared for March to decently meet the best European clubs in Ekaterinburg during the Final Eight.
"What pleases me the most is our team play, since the number of assists every game shows how much our players want to play altogether.
"The key role in this belongs to Diana Taurasi, who is completely settled at the club and in the city."
Rybakov is also delighted with the early contribution of his new coaching team, a duo appointed right out of leftfield, but who have so far at least, done a fine job.
"Regarding the first half of the season, we are satisfied with the job of Olaf Lange as we can already see the features of basketball we want to play" insisted Rybakov.
"Also, I have nothing but compliments for him and Sandy Brondello for the manner they run the team and how they treat the players both on and off the court."
The Ekat General Manager is now licking his lips in anticipation of the team getting even stronger as the season unfolds - a concept almost unimaginable taking into account the amazing depth they already have. And, it seems that the recently arrived Sue Bird will not necessarily be the last name through the door this season.
"We expect more additions to the team" confirmed Rybakov.
"Keeping in mind the situation last season, we can expect Sue [Bird] to be at her top shape by the end of January, but we don't want to force the process and will give her as much time as necessary" he explained.
"She is already registered for the Russian league and Russian Cup and when she is ready to play she will start with EuroLeague Women.
"Later, we may also make any necessary additions/replacements to our EuroLeague Women roster too.
"It's hard for me to appraise myself, but there is always room for improvement" acknowledged the centre.
"The most important thing for us is the result of Final and not individual statistics.
"USK Prague is certainly an experienced team with a roster that has personalities such as Jelena Skerovic, Rebekkah Brunson, Eva Viteckova and so on.
"Of course fast break defence and rebounding will be important in this game."
Form Guide: The hosts have a perfect record in Group C whilst domestically, they were unbeaten right up until mid-December when they finally lost in the Russian League for the first time, at arch rivals Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje - although they still lead the standings. The visitors also lead their domestic league having only suffered one defeat so far, but it has been a different story in EuroLeague Women. Losing the first three games cost Ivan Benes his job and the Czech club are 3 and 2 since Natalia Hejkova took over.
The Hot Hands: Deanna Nolan has really found some great consistency over the last four games for Ekat, averaging a floor shooting percentage of just under 70%. Candace Parker meanwhile has scored double digits in six of seven games and has a near season double-double of 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. Playmaker Silvia Dominguez is averaging a stunning 6.4 assists per game. Few players have excelled of late for Prague, although both Kia Vaughn and Rebekkah Brunson have done a reasonable job in the paint.
‘X Factors': When one team is ridiculously stacked and also in great form as is the case with Ekat in this particular match-up, decisive 'X-Factors' are few and far between. The emphasis will be on Prague to simply compete across the floor, especially defensively and hope they can get some joy under the basket via Brunson and Vaughn, whilst this would be a good game for both Eva Viteckova and Katerina Elhotova to finally catch fire from downtown in a big way.