By Paul Nilsen
There's one UMMC Ekaterinburg player who can't wait for the plane wheels to touch down on Spanish soil, and that's Silvia Dominguez who is preparing for a special return to Perfumerias Avenida where she won a EuroLeague Women title two years ago.
Of course the irony is that Dominguez won her first title with the Salamanca club in Ekaterinburg, the place she now treads the boards every week with her new club. And, having landed consecutive EuroLeague Women championships after grabbing another winner's medal with Ros Casares last year, Dominguez is now bearing down on a third in a row.
"It will be a special game for me in Salamanca of course," said the playmaker. "I spent five amazing seasons playing in that gym.
"For Avenida, it is an important game since they still have options to qualify for the next round and they know when they play at home, anything is possible with the support of their fans.
"The work that we are going to do in the next two months is so important for us.
"February is a hard month mentally with only three games, so we need to work hard all through these weeks.
"We need to play with full speed, full power, precision and concentration - because when the big games come, we have to be ready."
It's been a great move for Dominguez so far. Having spent last summer trying to crack the WNBA rather than linking up with the Spanish national team, she has never looked back since switching to Russia.
She already has a Russian Cup winner's medal in her pocket and has averaged almost 27 minutes per game in EuroLeague Women, with only Diana Taurasi managing more court-time.
Whilst her shooting percentages haven't been quite as productive as she might have liked, Dominguez has pulled the strings superbly with 5.7 assists per game.
"My adaptation to the team was so quick," she agreed.
"Playing many minutes at the beginning of the season gave me good confidence and it's also easy when you have all these kind of players around you."
She has deservedly received high praise from Ekaterinburg General Manager Maxim Ryabkov for her hard work and the way she has applied herself, but now Dominguez is preparing to take more of a back-seat with the comeback of Sue Bird who debuted last week and dished up a magnificent 10 assists.
But, so typically of the pragmatic and straight-talking Dominguez, she is already contemplating the upsides of having to suddenly play second fiddle to Bird.
"I knew Sue was the starting point guard when I signed for Ekat.
"I have to change my role now, but we are different players with different styles, so I'm thinking more about my contribution to the team during the minutes I will be on the court as well as what I'm going to improve by having the best point guard in front of me at every single practice."
|It will be a special game for Silvia Dominguez when UMMC Ekaterinburg face Avenida |
As well as sharing the same position on court, there may be something else which Dominguez and Bird soon have in common. For after taking a heavy blow to the face and sustaining a suspected broken nose, Dominguez may have to don a face-mask against Avenida - something which Bird infamously wore at the first ever Final Eight last year.
As for Avenida, the recent arrival of new head coach Victor Lapena has arrested their worrying slump having managed to get the players to produce more on the floor than his predecessor Alberto Miranda. Admittedly he has been helped by a subtle change of some personnel, but the fresh impetus of Lapena has certainly made a difference.
Their first EuroLeague Women win under Lapena came against USO Mondeville and has been complimented by some solid performances in the Spanish Liga Femenina resulting in the phrase ‘Blue Revolution' being bandied around.
But, after their defeat at Galatasaray last week and now the mighty Ekat in town, it will likely be tough to avoid successive losses. This may prove costly in terms of making the post-season and would leave their hopes on a knife edge. It may come down to having to win during the last week of the season at Novi Zagreb and most certainly relying on results elsewhere in the group.
Form Guide: Avenida are still struggling in sixth spot with a 3-7 record, although have won two of their last three home games in the competition. They sit in second place in the Liga Femenina with two defeats and are chasing down leaders Rivas Ecopolis who have one loss. Ekat are the only unbeaten team in EuroLeague Women and head up Group C with a perfect ten wins. They also lead the Russian League having lost only once all season and already have the Russian Cup safely in the trophy cabinet.
The Hot Hands: Ewelina Kobryn has played a quartet of excellent and efficient cameos for Ekaterinburg recently, shooting a terrific 18-of-25 from the floor. It's been a struggle for Avenida this year, although Marta Fernandez has probably been the most consistent and influential performer.
‘X Factors': A lot rests on the shoulders of recent signing Monique Currie, who has had a roller-coaster time shooting-wise in the last few games. An impressive 22-point haul on debut for Avenida was sandwiched between a 1-of-10 performance in her farewell game with Targoviste and a 1-of-12 display last week against Galatasaray. Currie can be a fine player when on song and she must find her range for Avenida to have the remotest chance of a huge upset. Confidence and a positive start will be key for Avenida. They have to believe in the upset mentally to have any chance physically. Above anything else, they need to play hard and somehow find a way to provide a significant uplift in their rebounding prowess which has been underwhelming all season.