|10 March 2014|
EUROLEAGUE WOMENWe take a look at the remaining four play-off match-ups as the race to reach the EuroLeague Women Final Eight intensifies.
Galatasaray odeabank (5) vs. Perfumerias Avenida (12)
There's no other play-off series with quite as much familiarity than Galatasaray odeabank going up against Avenida. Not only did the clubs match-up during the regular season, there are also a number of players facing their former teams yet again.
Eshaya Murphy was at the Final Eight last year with Galatasaray and will be out to deny her former team a return.
Meanwhile both Alba Torrens and Sancho Lyttle won the Euroleague Women title in Ekaterinburg with Avenida three years ago, but will both be intent on ensuring their ex-employers in Salamanca progress no further.
Marta Xargay played alongside the duo during their 2011 triumph and just like when she gained further success at Eurobasket Women 2013 with Torrens and Lyttle on the Spanish national team, she will be crucial in setting the tone defensively for Avenida.
Although with both teams having clinched big wins on their own court against each other in the first round of the competition, Xargay believes Galatasaray having the home edge in the three-game series could be decisive.
"We know that home court advantage could be key factor in this play-off series," she admitted.
"Galatasaray are the favourites to go to Final Eight, but we get to this game in a good momentum and we believe in our possibilities.
"The keys for us will be to have strong defence in their main players and to get towards the end of the game with a tied score."
In just eight words: Avenida must reduce turnovers to increase their prospects.
Tango Bourges (6) vs. Good Angels Kosice (11)
Last year, Maros Kovacik rode the crest of a wave during his first season in the hot-seat at Good Angels Kosice.
He took the Slovak Republic champions all the way to the semi-finals and was roundly heralded as the unofficial EuroLeague Women coach of the year.
|Good Angels Head Coach Maros Kovacik|
This time around, he's seen the other side of the coaching coin at the elite level after losing his key players and it's been a challenge just to stay competitive.
"It was and still is a very difficult," stated Kovacik.
"Not only for me, but all of us here. To practice and to play the games with 7-8 players, sometimes with only one post player or putting into your system new player all the time, it is really tough.
"You need to move on day by day and you are on the same place every single day, no matter how hard you work.
"But this is life and everybody needed to find a way to handle it - I can definitely say that what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.
"Fortunately, we are still here and ready to fight. We're alive and stronger."
Riding off the back of a fabulous and morale-boosting Middle European Final Four victory last weekend, Kosice will be hoping it is third time lucky when they face Bourges, having lost twice to their rivals during the regular season.
"The second game was actually very useful to us and I hope that we collected some important info which could help us in these play-off games," revealed Kovacik.
"Only really tough defence and concentration for as long time as possible can help us stay in the game until the end.
"Bourges are a great team and if you switch off your concentration or stop following our game plan even for a brief moment, they will punish you right away.
"Defence, concentration and smart offensive decisions will be key."
It hasn't been plain sailing for Bourges either who had a terrible start before finding some red-hot form in the second-half of the regular season - a fact not lost on Les Bleues forward, Endene Miyem.
She said, "First of all, I'm just so glad that my team made it thus far, because we struggled a lot at the beginning.
"However, we know that things are just getting started and we also know this team of Kosice pretty well.
"The upcoming games will be really tough and I think our first aim is to enjoy the home-court advantage and make everything possible to win because in front of their fans, it won't be easy at all.
"My team and I really want to go back to the Final Eight and through this play-off series is the only way to reach it.
"At this point, our collective will, fighting spirit and understanding will be the most important elements."
In just eight words: Kosice finding downtown range would pose Bourges questions.
Nadezhda (7) vs. Wisla Can-Pack (10)
It's been very much a case of two seasons rolled into one for Nadezhda. Having lost their first four games of the campaign, the arrival of new head-coach, George Dikeoulakos coincided with an epic reversal of fortune.
Central to the renaissance is a player he knows very well in the shape of his Greek national team star - the dynamic Zoi Dimitrakou. She has flourished under her compatriot and has often laid out the approach of the Russian side with her feisty, energetic style and work ethic.
Now, the forward is determined to ensure the spectacular revival isn't wasted as Nadezhda search for their first Final Eight appearance against a Wisla Can-pack team coming off the back of a Polish Cup Final win. Both teams know each other well from the regular season, but Dimitrakou believes this won't count for much when the post-season swings into action.
"These upcoming games for the play-offs are very different to the games of first round," she claimed.
"These are finals for a place in Ekaterinburg and one bad game, or even one bad half, could really cost us and lose the home advantage that we have already earned.
"But all of us are aware of this and have been giving 100% in our practices as part of the preparation.
"The start of the season was very bad for our team and nobody would have expected us to finish second in our regular season group.
"But there were big changes and all of us are trying our best for this team.
"So after all this, I truly believe that we deserve to be in the Final Eight," added Dimitrakou.
It is very important to stay humble and to work hard to get these two wins."
As for Wisla, forward Justyna Zurowska is confident their recent hectic schedule won't take a toll.
"We have had a hard time travelling to Gorzów and then Konin for the Polish Cup and now to Orenburg," she explained.
"We have had many games and travelled many kilometeres during the last week, but we feel that we can still spend all our energy on this opening play-off game.
"Our opponents are a really great team. They play perfect organised defence and they have a coach who read players very well.
"They strongly crash the boards and put back many scores.
"I would like to see us play some good games, so our fans will feel proud of us."
In just eight words: Wisla need shooters to shine, not just Lavender.
Kayseri Kaski spor (8) vs. Beretta Famila Schio (9)
The closest contest in the play-offs could well be between the Group A rivals who match-up well against each other. Both have similar characteristics. They are physical and like to win games from the free-throw line.
The Italians are gunning for a third straight appearance at the Final Eight and in stark contrast, Kayseri are bidding for a EuroLeague Women fairytale of sorts, by making it to Ekaterinburg in their first ever season competing in the tournament.
Having watched Kayseri take down defending champions UMMC, forward Jen Nadalin is acutely aware that Schio must be at the peak of their powers to punch a ticket back to Russia.
"We are definitely expecting a battle in the series against Kayseri," she acknowledged.
"They are a solid defensive team that never gives up.
"We saw that especially at home - they are a team that plays confident on offence and focuses on their inside game.
"Last season, we had the home-court advantage, so we know we need to be especially focused to come up with a win in game one in Kayseri."
In just eight words: So closely matched, composure and execution will decide.