|30 January 2013|
By Paul Nilsen
The play-off hopes of UE Sopron will be on the line tonight when they go up against Nadezhda Orenburg, knowing even a victory could see their Final Eight dreams dashed.
The Hungarian club have come close to so many wins this season but haven't been able to do the business during crunch time and it looks as if that frustrating trend may catch up with them.
UE Sopron, with a 3-8 record, currently sit in fifth position. Should they remain in this spot then they are playoff bound.
They also hold the tie-breaker over Municipal Targoviste (3-7) thanks to their 65-57 win last week.
Targoviste, however, have a game in hand. Should Sopron lost to Nadezhda on Wednesday, Targoviste can advance to the playoffs by winning one of their two remaining games.
However if Sopron defeat Nadezhda, then Targoviste will need to win both of their remaining games to claim the playoff berth ahead of Sopron.
If Arras Pays D'Artois win their last two games against Targoviste and Nadezhda, they could join the two sides in a three-team-tie.
This scenario would favour Sopron.
All Sopron must focus on for now is the part which remains in their hands: beating the arguably fragile Russian visitors, also gaining revenge for a gut-wrenching 73-69 defeat at Nadezhda earlier in the campaign.
Nadezhda haven't had much luck this year either, losing head coach Aleksandr Kovalev to illness which firstly led to assistant Aleksandar Vasin taking the reins and then more recently, Lithuanian national team coach Algirdas Paulauskas being installed.
|Is she playing or not? Dewanna Bonner could be key for Nadezhda|
It's his first game at the helm and he may well be without the services of prize asset Dewanna Bonner who has been missing of late after having returned to the States due to a family bereavement. If she is back on board, then that will make life much more difficult for Sopron since she has averaged a magnificent season double-double of 16.1 points and 10.7 rebounds so far.
Not that Nadezhda are incapable of winning without Bonner, although they did have to work hard to scrape past Municipal Targosite 71-68 at home last week. Having dodged that bullet, they will be hoping to capitalise on the wobble of former group leaders Famila Schio and pip the Italian club for third spot by wrapping up their regular season campaign with two wins.
To do that, they must overcome their poor record on the road which has seen them lose four out of five and that is a real concern with the all-important play-offs looming large on the horizon and home-court advantage nowhere close to being secured.
To improve upon this, they will need to contain Serbian forward Jelena Milovanovic, the second leading scorer in the competition with 18.5 points per game for Sopron, whilst week 11 MVP Shenise Johnson is also a big danger too.
Although the most pertinent issue for the visitors to take note of, is that Sopron lost recently to both joint Group B leaders Fenerbahce and Good Angels Kosice by a meagre five points and so will really fancy their chances.
However, Sopron must finally find an improvement in their three-point shooting percentage which is a poor 23.2% - the worst in EuroLeague Women. Had they made just a couple of perimeter shots in the bunch of close games they have lost, it could have been a very different season.
The big dynamic still in their favour is that they have continually done a terrific job of looking after the ball. They have the fewest turnovers in the tournament with 12.5 per game and not giving up fast-break scores has allowed them to remain in games down the stretch.
On paper, this looks too close to call and one of the most interested observers will be Municipal Targoviste who will be willing Nadezhda to the win so they can benefit by way of a post-season berth.
The fans of the hosts will be in full voice, since this could be their teams' farewell game and last minutes in the competition this season.