Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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More Questions Than Answers
It was almost an unofficial EuroLeague Women All Star game when Ros Casares hosted UMMC Ekaterinburg and while many of the big names on show misfired, it was far from a disappointment in terms of intrigue. In fact, it was utterly compelling as a spectacle since this game threw up more questions than answers for the respective coaches.
Both are under intense pressure to perform and get their team to the top of the podium and despite the loss (their second of the season against a fellow favourite for the title), I am not sure that I would rather be in the shoes of Algirdas Paulauskas rather than Natalia Hejkova at this moment.
Ekat spent a lot of time in Spain preparing for this one and for pretty much 27 minutes, they were comfortable and looked like they would secure the win. But, while it is galling they allowed a double digit lead to slip so easily and endured the mother of all droughts, I'm not too sure it wasn't just down to some poor decision making, careless ball handling and terrible finishing -something that occasionally happens to any team and even the best ones.
|Ann Wauters was in-form for Ros Casares with 17 points and 8 rebounds|
With this in mind, perhaps what happened to Ekat can therefore be written off as just a horrific quarter which resulted in a bad day at the office. Watching a stacked team such as Ekat score just two baskets in a quarter against any opponent is an eye-popping experience, but I am confident they will improve and with Sue Bird to add, I really don't think they have any fundamental issues to resolve.
As for Ros Casares, let's give them an enormous amount of praise and credit for the way they came alive after looking dead and buried. They showed great heart and dug out an important result. But in spite of this, I can't help wonder what percentage of this success was down to Ros Casares stepping up their game at both ends of the floor or Ekat just losing the plot and being the instigators of their own downfall.
Rightly or wrongly, I still have an uneasy feeling about Ros despite this victory. A sense of them having been gifted this win by Ekat and let off the hook in a big way. Not only that, I think there is probably an uncomfortable realization that this game threw up some major questions about the balance of their team and in particular the role of Lauren Jackson.
Before the season started, I stated my concern at the lack of a dedicated pure shooter and suggested this would be a problem for the Spanish club. Having watched Lauren Jackson standing on the wing and in the corner to make outside shots, this weakness looks even more glaring. Jackson is a phenomenal player and since I am someone who fully believes in the mantra of ‘do what your opponent would least want you to do,' I tear my hair out at Ros doing exactly what their opponent would want them to do - namely having LJ as far away from the hoop as possible at almost every opportunity.
She is just far too good (and I also suspect expensive) to not ensure her all-round skills are utilized. She has taken just six shots inside during her three games so far and that is pretty damning. It's a puzzle Hejkova probably needs to solve but it will be tough. Since even if she gets Jackson firing on all cylinders, it still won't give her the natural world class pure shooter I think can be the difference maker and get Ros to the top of the podium.
Not that I am writing Ros off because they are a deep and talented team with an experienced coach. With the kind of performances Laia Palau and Ann Wauters contributed and also the kind of defensive play which Sancho Lyttle came up with when she blocked Sandrine Gruda down the stretch, quite clearly anything is possible and they remain a big contender.
If you look at the contribution of any player in EuroLeague Women, you will struggle to find anyone who has produced the kind of stats racked up by Tina Charles in the competition. Ever since she dipped her toes in the water with Nadezhda last season before making a summer move to Istanbul for her second year, she has averaged a double-double across the 18 games she has played. Out of those games, she has achieved double-doubles in 12 of them.
This week she helped bail out Galatasaray on the road at Bourges with another truly monstrous performance of 25 points and 18 rebounds. Sometimes I think the contribution of Charles has not been highlighted enough and taking into account she is still only 22 years old, it's mind blowing to think what she may be able to achieve in years to come as she gets even more street-wise and further develops her post skills.
The only note of caution for Galatasaray is that it is rapidly looking like they are placing all their eggs in the basket of Charles and Diana Taurasi. With the form of Alba Torrens having dipped and the domestic players also failing to produce in a significant way so far (they were a collective 0 of 12 in Bourges), I would be worried about a potential lack of depth compared to some of their title rivals and the presence of a Plan B if their big name imports don't perform. However, huge credit is due to their resilience in digging out a couple of hard fought wins so far which preserves their unbeaten status.
PAULBALL WEEK 6 PICKS
Performance Of The Week: Not many teams will win by 15 points in Krakow so I have to hand the accolade this week to Rivas Ecopolis for their 65-50 success at Wisla Can-Pack.
|Magdalena Zietara has shown some nice performances at youth level for Poland and now seems to have arrived in the EuroLeague Women as well - welcome!|
The Crucial Cameo: ZVVZ USK Prague really had to grind one out in Gyor and in a tight game, they might have ended up losing had Petra Kulichova not contributed an invaluable and efficient cameo of 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks which was in danger of getting lost behind the leading scorers for her team and the 9 rebounds and 9 assists from Tina Penicheiro.
Rising Star Watch: It was a good week for young Polish players this week with congratulations due to Agata Dobrowolksa who participated in her first ever EuroLeague Women game and marked the occasion with a basket and rebound for CCC Polkowice in their big win against visiting Tarbes. The same could be said for Kinga Bandyk who also claimed her first score in the competition with Lotos Gdynia in the win against VICI Aistes Kaunas. Meanwhile team-mate Magdalena Zietara had the best game of her pro-career after contributing 13 points and 4 rebounds including an impressive 6 of 8 inside.
Stats Don' Lie: Lotos Gdynia racked up an astonishing 62 first half points despite only averaging a little over 69 points per game up until that point. They also had six players in double digits while Geraldine Robert went 9 of 11, the same fantastic percentage attained by Ana Lelas in the victory for BLMA against Kosice Good Angels. Tina Charles became the first player to rack up 18 rebounds while Sparta&K Moscow Region Vidnoje shot the lights out with the best three-point performance of the season, sinking 13 triples on their way to achieving a superb 72.2%.