|"We have a young group that is feeling more confident, especially since we now have a small winning streak going for us" - Sparta&K head coach Alexander Vasin|
With limited experience and depth in comparison to the halcyon days of their four successive EuroLeague Women titles, it was always going to be the case that Sparta&K would endure a roller-coaster this year.
But after enduring an initial trough, the team finds itself riding the crest of a real peak as they search for a third successive victory, also taking satisfaction and confidence from leading the Russian Premier League.
"We have a very promising and young team this season, which I am confident will surprise many," claimed shooting guard Evengia Belyakova, considered one of the veterans in the team and despite only being in her third EuroLeague Women campaign.
"At the same time, our performance has ups and downs mainly because our players lack such top-level competition experience.
"We celebrate every victory we achieve and we draw conclusions from every loss we suffer.
"The bottom line is that most of the time, our wins or losses are a result of how hard we have worked in our practices."
The appointment of Alexander Vasin is certainly looking more and more like a shrewd move and the play-caller is relishing the challenge posed by the pending arrival of his Spanish opponent.
He said, "We have a young group that is feeling more confident, especially since we now have a small winning streak going for us.
"During this streak, we have not only built momentum, but my players have also gained some valuable experiences which surely will help them against a good team such as Avenida.
"I believe my players will be concentrated and can execute what we practice on game day.
"We are also waiting for our fans to support us in this difficult game."
Vasin know the importance of the head-to-head against Avenida, with both teams competing for a top four place in Group C, but is simply trying to focus only on his own teams' work.
"We have a team with good players which is still searching for its identity in Perfumerias Avenida and three other teams (CCC Polkowice, Kibirkstis-Vici Vilnius and WBC Novi Zagreb) which are capable of the worst or the best in any given game.
"But the truth is, whilst we would like to place well within the group, we are more interested in our win-loss record, since that and only that, will ultimately determine our play-off ranking."
|Eshaya Murphy has been a points production machine for Perfumerias Avenida this season|
Form Guide: Sparta&K lost their first two Euroleague Women games of the campaign, but have bounced back with successive wins against CCC Polkowice and Kibirkstis-Vici Vilnius. Domestically, they are enjoying a great start to the season with a 6-1 record at the top of the Russian Premier League, along with Dynamo Moscow and UMMC Ekaterinburg. They are also safely into the semi-finals of the Russian Cup. Perfumerias Avenida are also 2-2 in Group C, but have lost both previous road games at Galatasaray and Kibirkstis. They are leading the Liga Femenina with an 8-1 record and have already won the Spanish Super Cup.
The Hot Hands: Eshaya Murphy has hit the ground running since landing in Salamanca. The swingman is averaging 17.8 points per game and comes into this contest off the back of the highest EuroLeague Women score of her career after plundering 30 points against Novi Zagreb - although there is still scope for her to improve her shooting percentage even more. Serbian star Sonja Petrovic has picked up the mantle of a team leader for Sparta&K, with a series of all-action displays. She has been well supported by Belyakova and the rock solid Asjha Jones.
‘X Factors' & Match Ups: Consistency is an issue for both teams due to their age profile and it is a big ask for the home side to win three in a row, but if the likes of young Daria Namok can continue with those priceless little cameos off the bench, it makes the world of difference. In particular, because Sparta&K are not big scorers with 58 points per game and so every contribution is vital. The game could be won on the wings, with Belyakova and Petrovic going up against Murphy. Marta Xargay is a defensive powerhouse for Avenida who will press and play with tempo, so Sparta&K will have to handle the ball well and deal with pressure. They will also need to improve their finishing at the hoop which would be a big boost.
Did you know? Evgenia Belyakova scored a EuroLeague Women career-high 19 points in the last game against Kibirkstis. Sparta&K have regularly utilised five players born on or after 1992, with the youngest being 17 year old Kseniia Levenchko, who was in the All-Tournament Team at the U16 European Championship for Women last year and played with the U18 team this summer. For Avenida, Marta Fernandez needs 10 more points to reach the 1,500 landmark in EuroLeague Women.