By Paul Nilsen
The stakes could not be any higher for both ZVVZ USK Prague (4-7) and USO Mondeville (5-6) as they head into a dramatic final week of the regular season in Group C.
Both teams need a win to secure a play-off spot, but can still advance if Perfumerias Avenida fail to win their road game in Zagreb.
If Mondeville win, they advance as the third placed team in the Group as they will also overtake CCC Polkowice, who have already completed their schedule.
This scenario would mean Prague need Avenida to fall to Novi Zagreb in order to advance.
If Prague beat Mondeville and Salamanca also win, the three sides will finish tied at 5-7. Then a three-team-tie would come into effect, leaving Mondeville as the odd man out, largely due to their 82-54 loss to Avenida.
Prague play-caller Natalia Hejkova admits the 71-60 loss to CCC Polkowice left a nasty taste in the mouth and is still struggling to come to terms with a result which threw the clubs' play-off prospects back into the balance.
She said, "After my arrival, we were tasked with winning some away games from a series of four and we managed to win two.
|In the focus against USO Mondeville: Prague forward Eva Vitecková |
"From the home games, we wanted to win at least three [of five] and currently we are at 1 and 3, so if we do win this last one, it will be slightly above 50%.
"However, basketball isn't math and we all feel like we could have gotten more.
"And, the last loss (against CCC Polkowice) certainly stings the most."
She added, "After Ekaterinburg's curious defeat [in an unorthodox formation] at Avenida mixed up the standings in our group, this match will show who deserves to be amongst the top 14 teams and who doesn't."
One of the most interesting aspects of Prague this year has been the production of Czech Republic national team duo Eva Viteckova and Katerina Elhotova. Both class players, it's been an up and down year so far for the pair, although Hejkova was quick to defend their contribution.
"Both have been playing a long time now with no breaks, thus it is surely very difficult to maintain great form throughout the whole season" she insisted.
"Elhotova is maintaining a respectable average and I believe that the expected above average performance will come on Wednesday.
"But, we all know that only a team effort can bring us the win, and hopefully we will stay healthy to achieve this."
The last time the two teams met during early December, USO Mondeville claimed a 70-61 success on an error strewn evening for Prague who spilled the ball 22 times.
|Coming off her best game of the season against Novi Zagreb: Ingrid Tanqueray|
Form Guide: USK Prague have lost four of their five games on home soil and also three of their last four games generally, with their one success a narrow three point win over Novi Zagreb. They are however leading the way domestically with 20 wins from 21 games in the Czech League. USO Mondeville have lost their last four roads games, their only success coming way back on the opening day of the season at CCC Polkowice. They are slipping dangerously towards relegation trouble in the French League, where they have a disappointing 7 and 11 record.
The Hot Hands: Neither team has really had too many players lighting it up recently. Kia Vaughn has has been the main provider during the last two games for Prague, with a couple of improved displays. Meanwhile Laetitia Kamba has produced some efficient cameos for Mondeville, including a priceless 14 point and eight rebound performance last week as her team scraped past Novi Zagreb. Similarly Ingrid Tanqueray stepped up last time out with 17 points.
‘X Factors': You get the sense a lot rests on the respective performances of the guards since both teams are relatively turnover prone. Prague have recently bolstered their backcourt with the arrival of Latvian national team guard Elina Babkina. In their favour, USO Mondeville are a team capable of coming up with steals in a big way and they may pressure, squeeze and press, hoping Prague crack. Ultimately, in such a high stakes game, it may just be experience that wins the day and the hosts have the edge in this department. They should have the players to execute and show the necessary composure, although so far, their home floor hasn't been a happy hunting ground. Now would certainly be a good time to produce a big performance for the home fans.