EUROLEAGUE WOMENFourteen teams will engage for the last seven coveted spots for the EuroLeague Women Final Eight in Ekaterinburg next month. We take a look at the first three play-off match-ups.
Fenerbahce (1) vs. CCC Polkowice (15)
|Fenerbahce head coach Roberto Iniguez|
They may be top seeds in the competition, but Fenerbahce head-coach Roberto Iniguez isn't taking anything for granted when last year's finalists match-up with CCC Polkowice.
"We expect a hard play-off, since we know that Polkowice are a good team, with a good coach and players with a lot of experience in these kind of games," insisted Iniguez.
"It's actually my second play-off with them as I competed two years ago with Ros Casares and so I know how hard it is in their gym,.
"But for now at least, only the first game matters."
He added, "The mental factor will be decisive. We have to leave all our little worries at home and get to the game with our minds clean and focused so we can continue playing in our arena with the same confidence."
In just eight words: Polkowice must find extra firepower for epic shock.
ZVVZ USK Prague (3) vs. Rivas Ecopolis (14)
Having posted their strongest ever regular season, ZVVZ USK Prague will be big favourites to finally break their play-off misery and make it to the climax of EuroLeague Women.
Unsurprisingly, anticipation is high for the post-season, with head-coach Natalia Hejkova eager to continue the momentum.
"Everybody is looking forward to the play-offs here in Prague," said the play-caller.
"This is what we were working for and this is our target - to go through to the Final Eight.
"We will pay full respect to Rivas and we know we need to be fully concentrated and ready, so we don't damage our successful regular season.
"Rivas are dangerous and they can play without any pressure, under the command of an experienced coach and with some very good and experienced players too."
Rivas have had to contend with losing two EuroBasket Women 2013 winners in Laura Gil and Queralt Casas to injury, but can't be written off with Jose Hernandez at the helm.
"For us, it is very important to participate in these play offs, since our club, our fans and our players deserve to be with the best teams in Europe," claimed Hernandez.
"We know that USK Prague are a very strong team and they are playing good basketball this season.
"They have one of the best point-guards of the season in Laia Palau, have great shooters and a player like Jelena Dubljevic, who has had some very good performances.
"But, we have our chances and we want to find a way to beat them."
He continued, "We have to deal with the important absence of Queralt Casas and we must change some things in our style, but we are competing very well this season and now we want to compete against one of the best teams in Europe.
"We know that we have a small chance to play at the Final Eight, but we have to dream this week."
In just eight words: Somehow Rivas must stop Palau pulling the strings.
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje (4) vs. Uniqua Euroleasing Sopron (13)
Former four-time winners Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje and their Hungarian opponents both had excellent regular seasons, or at least against respective expectation.
The latter reached the play-offs for the first time in three years and whilst Sopron head-coach, Igor Polenek knows his team are underdogs, he insisted there will be no fear factor in his locker room.
He explained, "We respect Sparta&K, but we are not afraid of them.
"Sparta&K have had a great season and I congratulate them. They are strong favourites in this play-off pairing, but for us it's important to be healthy and to play the best as we can.
"This is a new challenge for us -a huge challenge. But we will do our best to make a surprise.
"We must succeed in stopping their key players in offence and then we can hope for a good result!"
One of the key players mentioned by Polenek is of course, Sonja Petrovic.
She has been the driving force behind a superb campaign for the Vidnoje team and the Serbian star is eager to keep the focus and finish the job in order to get to Ekaterinburg.
"I think our series with Sopron will be truly exciting," she mused.
"After a slow start, we were able to turn around our regular season thanks to hard work from our coaching stuff and it was a real team effort.
"Therefore I hope the home court advantage we will hold can help us qualify for the Final Eight, because Sopron are a young team that showed during the season they are able to compete with the best teams."
In just eight words: Sopron's chances increase if they control defensive rebounds.