By Paul Nilsen
After a hugely disappointing week or so, Rivas Ecopolis head coach Miguel Mendez and Spanish national team player Anna Cruz are ready to make amends and restore some confidence when they welcome struggling BK Imos Brno in EuroLeague Women Group A.
Having crashed at a depleted Uni Gyor last week before losing their unbeaten record in Spain's top flight, the Liga Femenina, a third loss on the spin is an unthinkable prospect for Coach Mendez, who is under no illusion as to the utmost need to take care of business.
"Every EuroLeague Women game is important, since every result counts the same, but our recent games have just made this one even more important for us" he admitted.
"We need to win this game to have a good chance of getting a good spot in the play-offs, but we also need to regain some confidence and show on the court the good work that our players are still doing in practice".
He continued, "The best thing about my team is that we are competing in every game and that's all a coach can ask from his players.
"We have a positive record in the EuroLeague Women, and we are the leaders of the Liga Femenina which is where we wanted to be right now, back at the start of the season".
Mendez was also careful to be hugely respectful to visiting Brno despite their struggles this season, both recognising their heritage and also the dangerous players dotted around their roster.
He said, "BK Imos Brno is a club with a huge history of success in women's basketball.
"They had a young team last season and got better this year with the adding of veteran players like Hana Horakova and Nicole Ohlde. They had a couple of big wins against Wisla and Györ, which shows that, on any given night, they are capable of upsetting good teams.
"And, their key player, Farhiya Abdi, is already a real talent. She is a player I've been tracking since she was young and I know that we have to try to stop her".
Ask the influential Anna Cruz about the game and the response is emphatic. Rivas are not contemplating anything other than a tough game and expect to re-discover their intensity again to get the much needed victory they crave.
|Hungry Anna Cruz can't wait to get the bad taste of defeat out of her mouth|
"We are hungry for this game and we really want to get this win to regain momentum" insisted Cruz.
"We have a lot of confidence in our team, but our chemistry is built both around our good group of players and the wins we are getting. After a couple of defeats in both of competitions, we are really looking forward to getting on the court and getting things going again"
"We need to secure a play-off spot as soon as possible to take off a bit of pressure and enter the most important months knowing that we are where we want to be" added Cruz.
"Our style of playing relies a lot on energy and defence, and then being effective on the fast-break. We're facing this game against Brno after a couple of games where we've not being that effective playing defence, probably because of the amount of games and travels we've had to face in a few days after the Christmas break.
"So we have to make sure we take advantage of playing this one at home.
Form Guide: Rivas sit fourth in Group A with a 5-4 record. They have only lost once at home in a close contest with Wisla Can-Pack and despite the Gyor defeat, have still won two of their last three games. Domestically, they won 11 straight in the Liga Femenina to top the table, but were pegged back slightly last weekend when fellow title chasers Perfumerias Avenida handed them a first loss. BK Imos Brno are second from bottom in Group A with two wins from nine games and no victories on the road. That could be a real problem with three road trips to finish the regular season. In the Czech League, Brno sit in second place, behind leaders ZVVZ USK Prague, but still have a shot of finishing top of the heap.
The Hot Hands: Anna Cruz, Aneika Henry and Oleksandra Kurasova have all played pretty well for Rivas of late. Cruz has 10 steals in the last two games, Kurasova has racked up 50 points in the last three games and Henry has grabbed 34 rebounds in the past three games, 14 of which were on the offensive glass. Brno have no real in-form players of late, even if top scorer Abdi will be the player to watch out for,
‘X Factors': This game is all about energy for Rivas and composure for Brno. If the hosts come out all guns blazing and re-discover their intensity by pressuring the ball via the likes of Cruz and Queralt Casas, Brno must stand firm and not capitulate. If Brno can remain in the game after thirty minutes, it could be a very nervous last quarter for the hosts. Brno have to keep Henry off the offensive glass.