|EuroLeague Women LIVE - Watch the Regular Season Group C clash Galatasaray and UMMC on FIBA Europe TV, Wednesday at 19:00 CET|
By Paul Nilsen
Something has to give when unbeaten heavyweight duo Galatasaray and UMMC Ekaterinburg lock horns in Istanbul this week, although Olaf Lange doesn't expect the outcome to have any significant impact in terms of a potential Final Eight match-up.
The Ekat play-caller is expecting a really tough test against the favourites to challenge his team for top spot in Group C, but whatever way it pans out, he isn't too concerned with any longer-term implications.
"The impact of these regular season games in regard to a potential meeting at EuroLeague Women Final Eight in March is limited," insisted the coach.
"Both teams will gain an understanding of how to play each other and which schemes work better than others.
"I think Galatasaray has played well so far, especially considering the injury problems they have had and also having to integrate (Lindsay) Whalen along the way.
"They have been as strong as expected, whilst also having their share of adversity early."
Lange was similarly complimentary about his own teams' performances so far in the competition. Since almost coming unstuck in embarrassing fashion against Novi Zagreb on opening night, Ekat has looked imperious ever since.
|UMMC Ekaterinburg head coach Olaf Lange: "Considering the stage of the season, we are playing solid basketball right now."|
"Yes, considering the stage of the season, we are playing solid basketball right now," said Lange.
"After starting slow in EuroLeague Women, we have made good progress, especially in the last two weeks.
"Having said that, the season is still young and there is a long way to go - but, so far, so good!"
Lange is particularly wary that any journey for a title favourite like Ekat is mostly concerned with peaking when it matters, rather than hitting form early.
He said, "This season, and any European season for that matter is a marathon and not a sprint.
"Hence we have to get better in all areas of the game.
"I don't feel that I can single out any particular area, but our progress has been solid thus far, but we just have to keep improving!"
There's little doubt that on paper at least, a game against Galatasaray in Turkey is the most difficult of the regular season for Ekat, and that means the visiting players need to be more focused on the finer details than usual.
"When playing on the road, it is always important to play great defence and to rebound well and this is even more critical when playing a great team," claimed Lange.
"Additionally, it will be crucial for us to know and to execute the scouting report when playing Galatasaray, as they have a significantly deeper playbook than most EuroLeague Women teams we have played so far."
The main danger posed to Ekat is likely to be in the paint from two reigning EuroLeague Women champions in the shape of Sancho Lyttle and Ann Wauters, who both made the switch to Turkey from Valencia in the summer. The latter has spoken of an eventful, but also enjoyable season so far at her new club, both on and off the court.
"Well, it has already been an exciting season," said Wauters.
"We have had some tough games, but have managed to win them. We had to deal with some injuries, so I think we still have a lot of room for improvement.
"We all know how much talent Ekat has, and it isn't easy to pick just one thing we have to do well against them - I think we just have to come out ready to compete with them and play hard."
She continued, "Istanbul is a great and busy city with lots of things to do and places to visit. But we do live in a quiet neighbourhood just across from our practice gym, so it's a perfect situation."
"Right now, I'm just trying to help my team as much as I can and it has been fun so far.
|Ann Wauters has felt comfortable playing in Istanbul with, "a nice group of people who are passionate and determined to achieve our goals."|
"We have a nice group of people who are passionate and determined to achieve our goals."
Form Guide: Galatasaray are yet to lose in EuroLeague Women with a 5-0 record, although have dodged a bullet on a couple of occasions. Domestically, they have lost twice, once in the Presidents' Cup Final to Fenerbahce, and once in the Turkish League to Kayseri Kaski spor. UMMC Ekaterinburg are unbeaten this season in all competitions, top of Group C with Gala with five wins and also top of the Russian League and safely through to the Final Four of the Cup.
The Hot Hands: There are plenty of options for both teams, but Lindsay Whalen has played particularly well since arriving late in Turkey, harvesting 15 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Sancho Lyttle has arguably been the most consistent performer for Galatasaray with 11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Candace Parker started slowly for Ekat, but has certainly had the hot-hand during recent weeks, and is now almost averaging a season double-double with 14.6 points and 9.4 boards per game. Silvia Dominguez leads the tournament in assists with a terrific 7.4 per game.
‘X Factors': Both Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker didn't play for Ekat in the Russian Cup quarter-finals over the weekend, but it seems this was nothing more than Olaf Lange handing his star duo some additional rest and both should hopefully line-up. When the game tips-off, it will probably boil down to one specific factor - the defence of Galatasaray. They give up fewer points than any other team in the tournament, but this will be put to the ultimate test this week. They have the frontcourt to match-up with Ekat, but they must live with their opponent on the wings.