Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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It was a defining week as we waved farewell to yet another fascinating calendar year of EuroLeague Women action.
A BITTER-SWEET 2012!
As with most years, there were tears of both joy and sadness, although there is little denying that 2012 was perhaps even more of a roller-coaster than usual and one that tasted distinctly bitter-sweet.
From the elation of a super first ever Final Eight in Istanbul, rising young stars getting the chance to step out in crunch games, the ticker-tape falling onto champions Ros Casares as they lifted the coveted trophy to the vastly contrasting disappointment of the champions becoming extinct within days of their podium triumph, and some stellar names such as Maria Stepanova and Alba Torrens picking up serious injuries.
|Marija Rezan had a remarkable comeback, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds in 15 minutes|
STEPANOVA AND REZAN RETURN, COULIBAY OUT
There was a nice contrast when both Stepanova and Marija Rezan (nee Vrsaljko) returned to the EuroLeague Women floor this week. Both centers, both having missed plenty of court time recently, both suffering knee injuries, but each at opposite ends of their respective careers.
It was great to see a player like Stepanova again, someone who has unrivalled legendary status within the women's game and especially since some had feared she may not return after her ACL injury at the Final Eight earlier this year. The particularly pleasing aspect of Stepanova coming back was the way she spoke so passionately about how much she has missed the game.
Rezan meanwhile has had her fair share of injuries already in her relatively young career after missing out at EuroBasket Women 2011. In a year when she debuted at the Olympics with Croatia, she had grabbed a high profile move to Perfumerias Avenida but the wheels then came off after being injured. I really do like Rezan very much as a player, and think she can be a high-level performer over the course of the next decade if she stays clear of further serious injuries.
The delight of seeing Stepanova and Rezan come back was however tempered by the news that yet another center, Naignouma Coulibaly of USO Mondeville has sustained a fractured cheekbone and could be out for a couple of months. That's a real shame as she has been awesome in her rookie EuroLeague Women season.
FAVOURITES FOR THE 2013 CROWN
After being asked recently about my favourite player of the season so far, I am now beginning to get asked more and more, who I think will be the favourites at the Final Eight. I have to say, little has happened so far to persuade me away from UMMC Ekaterinburg followed by either Fenerbahce or Galatasaray. Albeit I think writing off Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje would be dangerous.
But, I am convinced it looks like Ekat's trophy to lose right now. They seem to be just getting better and better, this week becoming the first team to surpass the 100-points barrier and also coming up with 27 assists. Seeing this superstar line-up sharing the ball around as much as possible will give coach Olaf Lange real satisfaction. And, to be boosted further with Stepanova coming back into the fold means they just got even stronger.
Galatasaray and Fenerbahace have both impressed me very much. Sylvia Fowles looks awesome as usual and Gala will love it when Torrens is thrown into the team - hopefully next month. As for Fener, I am particularly loving the frontcourt of Anastasiya Verameyenka and Ivana Matovic. Each and every week, both are producing superbly efficient numbers with the latter arguably producing some of the best basketball of her career.
CREDIT FOR GYÖR
I have to confess that I didn't think Uni Györ would have four wins after eight games and be battling it out with Rivas Ecopolis and Wisla Can-Pack for a play-off spot. I was absolutely wrong and I tip my hat to Akos Fuzy and his players, and especially after their scintillating display against Wisla when they set a record for assists this season with 28 in the game.
|Queralt Casas is enjoying big minutes in her EuroLeague Women rookie season|
RISING STARS CONTINUE TO SHINE
It's been a while since I took a look at the progress of the rising stars and there were plenty of young players performing this week.
Romane Bernies and Christelle Diallo both played a healthy ten minutes apiece for Bourges Basket in a high level match-up and victory over Sparta&K, whilst Olcay Cakir managed to score five points in just seven minutes for Fenerbahce at Targoviste, with Ksenia Tikhonenko playing 20 minutes for the home side.
Finally, Novi Zagreb teenager Zrinka Brkljacic will certainly remember her first ever basket and assist in the competition - managing to achieve it against a star laden Ekat, whilst 1994-born team-mate Lana Packovski also grabbed a score and assist.
As the curtain falls on Euroleague Women for this historic calendar year and prepares to hand the baton to 2013, I would just like to wish every member of the women's basketball family good luck, health and success for the New Year!