|20 November 2012|
By Paul Nilsen
In-form Natalia Vieru is relishing life back at Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje and is looking forward to trying to maintain the clubs' impressive unbeaten start to the season when they land in Krakow to face Wisla-Can Pack.
Having spent last season on loan at Good Angels Kosice where she showcased her skills to great effect, Vieru has reaped the benefit of her year away and is currently in the process of trying to pen an even more exciting new chapter now she is back in the Russian capital.
"A wonderful year spent in Slovakia has given me self-confidence and has brought me to a new level of basketball."
"Because of successful results with Good Angels, I qualified to the national team and participated in the London Olympics.
"My return to Vidnoje is a totally new stage in my career."
She added, "The players and coaches are very professional here. Sometimes I get to play good, sometimes not so good, but I'm full of energy and determination to work on my weak points!
"Sparta&K is a very good basis for self-improvement as a player."
There's little doubt Sparta&K have quietly gone about their business with ruthless efficiency in Group A and Vieru is warning they are continually evolving in a bid to improve even further.
She said, "The team is in a good mood. We have lots of ambitions, big aims and all the players are ready to show the highest level.
"It's time for Sparta&K to get back on the top positions in the EuroLeague Women!
|Natalia Vieru is back at Sparta&K after a year on loan with Good Angels Kosice|
"I think defence is going to be the most important thing in the game against Wisla Krakow" continued Vieru.
"If we don't let the opponent play their offence - we're going to be fine."
In fact, it has been only domestically where Sparta&K has had issues this season. They recently lost consecutive games which is almost unheard of, although Vieru was right to point out that this is testament to the quality of their domestic opponents.
"The Russian Championship is a pretty tough league" explained the 23 year old.
"The two losses happened because we were punished for our mistakes - both in defence and offence. We are not in a perfect condition yet, but we'll further improve the quality of our play during this season!"
As for Wisla Can Pack, it's turning into an extremely challenging and disappointing season so far.
Without a win in the EuroLeague Women, their season deteriorated even further over the weekend when they lost against CCC Polkowice in the Polish league.
What is more, Katie Douglas was ruled as not having recovered from her injury by the club's doctors.
To make matters worse, General Manager Piotr Dunin-Suligostowski had a health scare - all of which, according to former EuroLeague Women winner Anke De Mondt, has been typical of a season which hasn't exactly had the gods smiling on the Krakow club.
"I think the current situation for Wisla has been due to a combination of a lot of things" claimed the guard.
"We really haven't had any luck yet this year with injuries, missing players, other players being ill, and then of course, just the little details not going our way.
"Hopefully from now on, things will go much better."
Last season, Wisla had Sparta&K's number in a big way, but De Mondt isn't dwelling on the notion of history coming into play.
She said, "It might help, but you can't look too much in the past. Both teams have changed a lot.
"We just have to approach this game how we approach every game - to win!
"We have to believe in ourselves and go for it. We must play as a team."
In the wake of losing Douglas, Wisla have at least moved to bolster their roster with the acquisition of former EuroLeague Women All Star Alana Beard.
The guard has been cleared to play he first game of the season against Sparta&K.
|Dóra Horti's 8.7 rebounds per game have been a bright spot for Wisla in a rocky start|
Form Guide: Wisla have lost their three opening games of the season at Bourges Basket and Imos BK Brno, either side of a home loss to Uni Gyor. Domestically, Wisla were unbeaten until they lost to CCC Polkowice but remain in a strong position. Sparta&K have beaten Tarsus, Bourges, Gyor and Brno - and if you need to underline just how good they have been, they have won by an average of 19.75 points per game. Domestically, they have not been as rampant, losing successive games against Dynamo Moscow and Dynamo Kursk. Consequently they sit in fifth spot with a 3-2 record.
The Hot Hands: Sparta&K have plenty of contenders but Vieru and Week One MVP Candice Dupree have been the pick of the bunch. Vieru is shooting a brilliant 78.9% from the floor after four games, missing exactly one shot from open play in each. She is averaging five rebounds too. Dupree meanwhile started like an express train and has barely slowed down with 16.3 points per game at an impressive 63.6% shooting percentage. There's been less to cheer for Wisla, although Tina Charles arrived ahead of the last game to take the Week Three MVP Award. Dora Horti has done a great job on the glass with 8.7 rebounds per game.
‘X Factors': Confidence will play a big part in this game and if Wisla have any doubt whatsoever in their minds about their chances of winning this game, they will be brutally punished by Sparta&K. How Tina Charles is both utilised and defended will of course be key, but of paramount importance will be tempo. Wisla controlled it superbly last season during both meetings and the onus is now on Cristina Ouvina and Paulina Pawlak to do the same - with the help of their forwards controlling the glass.