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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Russians, Spaniards to Meet in 2010-11 Euroleague Final Four in the Urals; Eurocup Final Also Set

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Photo Credit: Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) helped lead UMMC Ekaterinburg into the Euroleague Women’s Final Four with a 2-0 sweep of its quarterfinal series against Italy’s Cras Taranto in the Euroleague Women’s quarterfinals. UMMC Ekaterinburg, located in the Urals of Russia, will host the Final Four event, which kicks off on Friday, April 8, and concludes with the championship and bronze medal games on April 10.

Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/Andrey Petukhov

By Bert Larsimont

Sart-Eustache, Belgium

Before American fans of women’s basketball get completely swept up in NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and WNIT March Madness, it’s worth remembering that there’s another Final Four about to get underway, one that features many of the world’s top women’s ballers.

All four quarterfinal series in the Euroleague playoffs resulted in 2-0 sweeps, a result that was not expected by followers of the league. In the end, two Russian teams and two Spanish squads advanced to the Euroleague Final Four, and that fact was much less surprising, as Russia and Spain have been on top of the European women’s basketball competition for quite a few seasons now.

Bourges Basket of France could not avoid two losses in a row against Spanish side Ros Casares Valencia. Halcon Avenida Salamanca of Spain got rid of the Polish team Wisla Can-Pack in two straight match-ups. Meanwhile, reigning Euroleague champion Spartak Moscow Region Vidnoje of Russia eliminated growing hotbed of the Turkish women’s circuit Fenerbahce in just two games. Fenerbahce was on top of the league, but entered the playoffs without international stars Diana Taurasi (WNBA Phoenix Mercury) and Australian Penny Taylor, also of the Mercury, in the wake of a scandal over mishandled drug test results by a Turkish lab. Another Russian powerhouse, UMMC Ekaterinburg, gave absolutely no chance to the Italians of Cras Basket Taranto.

The four winners move on to the 2011 Euroleague Final Four to be held in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg from April 8 to 10. Ekaterinburg was announced as the host city for the Final Four at a press conference held prior to the Euroleague Women’s All Star Game in Gdynia, Poland played on March 8.  UMMC Ekaterinburg has never previously hosted the Euroleague Final Four but, with three consecutive Final Four appearances, has been one of the Euroleague powerhouses in the last few seasons.

The UMMC Ekaterinburg has the home court advantage in the event, there is certain to be an international championship game. On Friday April 8 the host team will face off against reigning Euroleague champions Spartak MR Vidnoje in a battle between the major Russian powerhouses, while the two Spanish giants, Ros Casares Valencia and Halcon Avenida Salamanca, will duke it out on the opposite side of the bracket. That sets up a championship game battle between the cream of the Russian and Spanish crops on Sunday, April 10, immediately following the bronze medal game.

Euroleague Quarterfinal Results

Quarterfinal One, Game One: Ros Casares Valencia 65, Bouges Basket 58

In front of more than 1,800 fans, Ros Casares Valencia had a strong start against the French team Bourges Basket, coached by Pierre Vincent, in Game One of the quarter-finals, played on February 22. The score stood at 14-8 in favor of the Spaniards after 10 minutes and 34-20 at the half.

Led by Katie Douglas of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever with 27 points and Rebekkah Brunson of the Minnesota Lynx with 10 rebounds, the Spanish team kept control of the game despite a nice comeback by Bourges Basket in the third quarter that cut the Spanish lead to 47-41 after 30 minutes.

Bourges Basket’s Greek international Styliani Kaltsidou with 10 points and American sharpshooter Catherine Joens (George Washington University) with 18 points boosted their mates, but it would not be enough to truly threaten Ros Casares in the end.

Photo Caption: George Washington University’s talented sharpshooter Cathy Joens (No. 11, white) didn’t stick for long in the WNBA, but had a terrific season in the Euroleague this year. Though her French team, Bourges Basket, did not make it to the league’s Final Four, they did earn a trip to the quarterfinals, where Joens twice led her team in scoring with a combined 38 points in the two-game series.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe©

The Spanish side finally won the opening game of this Euroleague quarter-final series against Bourges Basket, 65-58. Many thought that Ros Casares Valencia’s staff took a gamble when they decided to replace Jordi Fernandez with Natalia Hejkova at the coaching helm. Quite the contrary, the move definitely paid off for the Spanish team.

Quarterfinal One, Game Two: Ros Casares 63, Bouges Basket 58

Three days after the opening game, Bourges Basket welcomed Ros Casares at the Palais des Sports du Prado in what should have been a very intriguing contest. A crowd of 3,000 showed up to cheer on the home team in the second leg of this quarterfinal series.

Despite the concerted efforts of talented French internationals Endene Miyem, who finished with 10 rebounds and two steals, and Emmeline Ndongue, who posted 16 points and seven boards, as well as U.S. guard Catherine Joens, who led the way with 20 points, the French team always trailed throughout the first three quarters, facing a 7-18 deficit at the end of one, cutting the Spanish lead to 27-32 at the half, and closing to within two, 42-44, after 30 minutes.

Miyem knocked down a crucial shot to tie the game at 44 early in the fourth quarter and Ros Casares point guard Edwige Lawson-Wade (San Antonio Silver Stars) was called for an unsportsmanlike foul against Bourges Basket’s Ilona Burgrova just afterwards. Burgrova only made one of her two free-throw attempts to put Bourges Basket in front for the first time since the opening quarter. But though Bouges Basket maintained possession, they were unable to pad their brief lead. Ros, again led by Katie Douglas (24 points and nine rebounds), quickly reacted to regain the lead and hold on for a 63-58 win to advancing to the Euroleague Women’s Final Four.

Photo Caption: Katie Douglas (Indiana Fever) led Spanish powerhouse Ros Casares to an appearance in the Euroleague Women’s Final Four with back-to-back 20-plus-point performances in the quarterfinals series.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/Cipriano Fornas

Quarterfinal Two, Game One: Halcon Avenida Salamanca 87, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow 70

The other Liga Feminina team to qualify for the Euroleague Final Four is Halcon Avenida Salamanca, a team that features Spanish superstars Alba Torrens, Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta Dream) and Anna Montañana, as well as Brazilian international Erika DeSouza (also of the Atlanta Dream). In the first quarterfinal game against Wisla Can-Pack Krakow (the Poles, coincidentally, coached by Spain’s national team coach Jose Ignacio Hernandez), Halcon Avenida played very well in the first twenty minutes, closing out the half on top, 51-35.

Spain’s talented Torrens (19 points) and De Souza (17 points and eight rebounds) were very efficient in offense and led their team to a rather comfortable win as the scoreboard showed 87-70 on the final buzzer.

Photo Caption: Spain’s Alba Torrens joined most of the Atlanta Dream front court to help lead Halcon Avenida Salamanca to the Euroleague Women’s Final Four with a 19-point performance in the opening game of the quarterfinals. The Connecticut Sun acquired the rights to Torrens, one of the hottest young stars on the international scene, but as yet, Torrens has not elected to play in the WNBA.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe

Quarterfinal Two, Game Two: Halcon Avenida Salamanca 72, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow 60


Three days later, despite a fantastic performance in the paint by Belarussian international Yelena Leuchanka (yet another Atlanta Dream star) who posted 19 points, Wisla Can-Pack could not avoid a second loss, this time at home. Led by Belgian shooter Anke De Mondt (15 points and five rebounds), Halcon Avenida handily defeated the Polish team,72-60. The Southern European team gave no chance to its opponent, leading throughout the entire game, and walking off the court with an impressive 52.8 field-goal percentage (28-of-53) and a respectable 72.2 percent from the charity stripe (13-of-18).

Quarterfinal Three, Game One: Spartak Moscow Region Vidnoje 86, Fenerbahce 78

In the third and one of the most competitive of the quarterfinal series, Fenerbahce of Turkey gave four-time defending FIBA Euroleague champions Spartak Moscow Region a run for its money in the opening game on February 22. Fenerbahce got off to a strong start in the opening half of Game One of the series, giving hope to the very few fans (approximately 500) who attended the event at the Caferaga Arena in Istanbul.

Fenerbahce, guided by veteran coach Laszlo Ratgeber of Hungary, led, 47-31, at the half, but the situation completely reversed itself after halftime. Despite an injury to Spartak’s Australian star Lauren Jackson, who returned home to Australia after suffering an acute injury to her Achilles’ tendon, an excellent performance by Fener center Nevriye Yilmaz, who finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and 20 points more from Fener’s Ivana Matovic, the Turks were able to challenge the Russian Superleague representative but not to overcome them. Taj McWilliams did a brilliant job of filing in for Jackson, finishing with a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds to help her team overcome a 16-point first-half deficit in a fantastic second-half comeback.

Spartak opened the third period on a 7-0 run, but though the Russians gradually whittled away at the lead, Fenerbahce was still on top, 64-59, after 30 minutes. 

Spartak took its first lead since the early minutes of the game as Sonja Petrovic dropped in a lay-up to cap an 8-0 Russian win with 8:22 to go. For the next two minutes, the two teams traded buckets, until a Sue Bird three-pointer, stretched the Russian lead to six, 78-72,  and held on for the 85-78 win.

Spartak coach Pokey Chatman, who will take the reins of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky this summer, had full confidence in former Rutgers’ star Epiphanny Prince (or, as her name appears on the Spartak roster, Epifanyia Prints), who led the way with 19 points and four assists). U.S. superstar Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) contributed 12 points in this road win.

Photo Caption: Epiphanny Prince skipped her senior year at Rutgers to play professionally in Europe, and her game has benefited from the experience. Prince led the talent-packed roster of reigning Euroleague Women’s champion Spartak Moscow back to the Final Four with a cumulative 41 points and eight assists in their two-game quarterfinal series.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/ Y. Fedosseeva©

Quarterfinal Three, Game Two: Spartak Moscow Region Vidnoje 74, Fenerbahce 56

Spartak had a much easier time of it three days later, on February 25, in Game Two of the quarterfinal series at home in the Vidnoje Sports Centre in front of 1500 Russian supporters.  Averaging a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in the series against Fenerbahce, aging U.S. center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, most recently of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, was again a major factor, hauling down a game-high 10 boards in Spartak’s 74-56 Game-Two rout of the Turkish side.

Photo Caption: Forty-year old forward-center Taj McWilliams-Franklin (New York Liberty) took on the onerous task of filling the shoes of injured Australian power forward Lauren Jackson, helping to lead Spartak Moscow Region to its fifth Euroleague appearance in as many years with dominant play in the post. (File photo)
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/Y. Fedosseeva

Fener never led, as Spartak Moscow Region finished the 2-0 quarterfinal sweep to reach the Final Four for the fifth time in a row, behind another fantastic performance by Prince, who finished Game Two with 22 points and four assists. Sue Bird, who finished with 13 points, and Jelena Milovanovic who chipped in 10, each nailed critical three-pointer to quash an attempted Fener rally in the second quarter. From there, it was all downhill for the Turks, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the final period.

There is no doubt that the midseason loss of Taurasi and Taylor cost the Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, whom many observers consider a favourite in the main European women’s basketball clubs competition this season, a great deal—including, perhaps, a trip to the Euroleague Women’s Final Four. Taurasi’s contract with the club was terminated after she was provisionally banned on the strength of a report from a Turkish lab accusing her of using a banned substance, modafinil. The ban against Taurasi was later lifted after the lab retracted its report, but neither Taurasi, nor Taylor, who left in the wake of what she perceived as mistreatment of her Phoenix Mercury teammate, returned to complete the season.

Quarterfinal Four, Game One: UMMC Ekaterinburg 68, Cras Taranto 51

Finally, the fourth quarterfinal series ended up with a rather severe elimination of Italian side Cras Taranto. UMMC Ekaterinburg played Game One on February 22 before a full house with 5,000 in attendance at the DIVS Sport Hall of Ekaterinburg. UMMC, led by 19 points from French international player Sandrine Gruda (Connecticut Sun), seven assists and six steals from Celine Dumerc, also of France, 16 points and nine rebounds from Russian forward Olga Arteshina, and nine more boards from U.S. professional Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks), coasted to a comfortable 17-point win (68-51) in the opening game of the series.

Quarterfinal Four, Game Two: UMMC Ekaterinburg 74, Cras Taranto 32

Neither team had time to rest, as the UMMC and Cras players and staff immediately traveled from the Urals to Italy for the second match-up of the quarterfinal series played on Feb. 25. There, the Italian home team faced an even worse shellacking.

Despite the efforts of Cras Taranto’s Megan Mahoney (Kansas State) and Sophia Young (San Antonio Silve Stars), the Italians never looked able to challenge UMMC in Game Two. The Russian side was already ahead, 15-11, at the end of the first quarter and stretched that lead to 33-17 by the half. The Russians exploded in the third quarter, outscoring Cras 20-7 in the period, which ended with UMMC on top, 53-24 (note that by this point, Spartak had scored more than two points for every one put up by the Italians). Spartak continued to roll in the fourth period for a final score of 74-32, for a 42-point victory margin.

UMMC once again enjoyed balanced scoring, led by 16 points from Candace Parker and 10 from Maria Stepanova, who iced the cake with seven rebounds and three assists.

Meanwhile, with 22 turnovers, the Italian side of Cras Basket Taranto, coached by a very disappointed Roberto Ricchini, finished their 2010-11 Euroleague campaign with an embarrassing home loss at the hands of what looks like the new favourite team in this competition.

Summing Up the 2010-11 European Season

2010-11 has been marked by a real shift in the hierarchy of European women’s basketball clubs hierarchy. No team from Hungary, Slovakia or even world vice-champion nation Czech Republic reached the quarterfinals this season. Pecs 2010, MKB Euroleasing Sopron, Good Angels Kosice, ZVVZ USK Prague or Frisco Sika Brno were among the historic Eastern European power clubs that failed to reach the quarterfinals this year.  In this new and different European women’s basketball landscape,  Russian Superleague clubs definitely remain on top, but are now challenged by newly established Spanish and Turkish powerhouses, rather than by the Eastern European teams that tended to rule the roost in years past.

In other changes, FIBA Europe also announced that a Final Eight will be organized next season. While the particulars of this format have not yet been disclosed, it appears that a centralized tournament at a single venue, akin to the current Euroleague Final Four event, may replace the current reciprocally hosted quarterfinals structure.

“Rest of the World” Rules 2011 Euroleague All-Star Game

The “Rest of the World” squad, comprised of the Euroleague’s non-European international players, severely defeated Europe, 116-88, at the Euroleague Women’s All-Star Game in Gdynia, Poland. In one of the highlights of the game, the very athletic U.S. center Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), who spends her winters playing for Galatasaray Medical Park, slammed down a dunk on a late-game breakaway. Fowles had dunked previously in the 2009 Euroleague All-Star Game. (The Connecticut Sun’s Tina Charles also attempted a dunk in the first half of the 2011 game, but couldn’t finish as the ball slipped out of her hands.) Fowles, who finished the game with a game-high (tie) 16 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes, was elected the All-Star Game’s MVP. 

Caption: Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles, playing for Galatasaray Medical Park in the winter Euroleague, throws down a dunk during the 2011 Euroleague Women’s All-Star Game. Fowles, who notched 16 points and four boards to help lead the “Rest of the World” to a record-breaking 116-88 win over Europe, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Credit: YouTube FCN Blog

“Show time” is the watchword for all of the participants in the Euroleague Women’s All-Star Game, which saw plenty of offense, but not much defense from either side. U.S. long-range shooters knocked down plenty of three-pointers, led by Alexandria Quigley (DePaul) who drained three treys in the final stanza alone. Tina Charles is not known for her three-point shooting—she’s 0-3 in regular-season play for Russia’s Nadezhda Orenburg—but she, too, netted three long-balls in the All-Star Game. It was Europe, however, that won the event’s half-time three-point shooting contest, as ZVVZ USK Prague’s Katerina Elhotova of Team Europe edged Alexandria Quigley of the Rest of the World.

Quickly trailing in this game, Europe—despite offensive efforts by Elhotova, Liron Cohen and Sandrine Gruda, who finished with 14 points each, and a double-double of 12 points and 11 boards from Sancho Lyttle—could never really challenge the Rest of the World.  By the end of the first quarter, the Rest of the World led, 40-24, and with 116 points by game’s end, the Rest of the World beat the Euroleague All-Star Game scoring record, previously held by the Europe squad who posted 111 points in 2008.

Europe had won the All-Star Game three years in a row from 2008 to 2010. This is the second time that the Rest of the World has won the All-Star Game, the first one being in Valencia, Spain in 2007.

In addition to Fowles’s spectacular performance, Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream, Fenerbahce) posted 16 points and grabbed nine boards for the rest of the world, repeatedly driving the paint and demonstrating efficiency underneath the basket. Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx) poured in 14 points, while Monica Wright (also of the Lynx) and Charles chipped in 11 apiece for the winning side.

2011 Eurocup Finals Underway

In the other major FIBA Europe competition for clubs, the 2011 Eurocup Women Finals are underway, with the French team of Arras Pays d’Artois facing Elitzur Ramla of Israel. The first game of the finals series, played Thursday, March 17, in Israel, ended in a 61-61 tie. The second game will be played in northern France next week.

Photo Caption: Ukrainian power forward Olesia Malashenko and her French professional squad Arras Pays d’Artois will face Israel’s Elitzur Ramla in the Eurocup Finals, which tipped off on Thursday, March 17.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/Elitzur Ramla/Magriso Seffi

Eurocup Women Semifinal One, Game One: Arras Pays d’Artois 67, BC Chevakata 66

To reach the Finals, Arras Pays d’Artois had to take on Russia’s BC Chevakata in semifinal play. BC Chevakata had to qualify against another French team, Nantes Rezé, guided by veteran coach Laurent Buffard. They would not fare as well against Arras, though it looked like they might for the first 20 minutes of the opening game of the semifinal series.

The Russian team, anchored by U.S. guard Loree Moore (recently signed by the Los Angeles Sparks) and center Jessica Davenport (Indiana Fever), took a large lead in the first half of leg one of the semifinal series against Arras Pays d’Artois, leading, 35-21 by the break. But thanks to an amazing comeback in the third and fourth quarters in front of a fantastic home crowd, Arras Pays d’Artois, coached by Bruno Blier, finally stunned BC Chevakata, winning by the closest margin, 67-66.

Congolese power forward Pauline Akonga led Arras with 21 points, 11 of them in the second-half comeback.

Eurocup Women Semifinal One, Game Two: Arras Pays d’Artois 67, BC Chevakata 66

The two teams moved on to Russia for the second leg of the series. The French side, once again led by Congolese forward Pauline Akonga (18 points and 11 rebounds), as well as French international Johanne Gomis (18 points and eight steals), dominated their Russian opponent for nearly the entire game.

The French still led, 57-47, with less than seven minutes to go in the game. But BC Chevakata’s Maria Cherepanova and Elena Danilochkina weren’t ready to call an end. Each of them knocked one down from downtown, and Jessica Davenport, who finished with a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds for the homestanding Russians,  added two from the charity stripe to cut the deficit to two.

Arras responded, extending its lead back to six, but that’s when Davenport launched a one-woman 5-0 run, knocking down two free throws, then converting a traditional three-point play, to put BC Chevakata back within one, 60-61, with under two minutes remaining on the clock.

Elena Volkova tied the game for the Russians, knocking down a trey after the French had inflated their lead to three on a pair from the penalty line. Then, BC Chevakata actually took the lead in the game’s final seconds, as Cherepanova netted three of four free-throws to make it 66-63 in favor of the home team.

Thanks to a well-timed steal and fantastic jump shot buried from beyond the arc by Johanne Gomis in the final seconds of the game, Arras Pays d’Artois tied the score at 67-67, and the clock ran out before either side was able to score further.

Here’s the kicker for Americans who may not be familiar with the Eurocup playoff format. In the Eurocup, qualification for higher rounds is earned not by the raw number of games won, but rather by the higher aggregate score after two semifinal games. Thus, rather than heading to overtime, Arras, who had won the first game by a single point, earned a place in the Eurocup Women Finals for the first time in the club history.

Eurocup Women Semifinal Two, Game One: Elitzur Ramla 74, Sony Athinaikos 59

In the other two-game semifinal series, Elitzur Ramla had an easy, 74-59, win in Game One against the defending Eurocup champions Sony Athinaikos. Elitzur, led by U.S. power forward Le’Coe Willingham (Seattle Storm), quickly took a large lead thanks to a decisive first quarter (21-9) in front of 1,200 enthusiastic Israeli supporters.

The first leg of this Eurocup semifinal series was broadcast by Israeli Channel 11 and by Greek public channel ERT Sport+. These TV broadcasts prove how FIBA Europe club competitions are now gaining interest.

Eurocup Women Semifinal Two, Game One: Sony Athinaikos 88, Elitzur Ramla 81

Down by 15 points before the second leg even began in Byron, Greece, Sony Athinaikos, anchored by Ruth Riley (San Antonio Silver Stars), Marina Kress and Aikaterina Sotiriou was not out yet. By the half, the Greek team, led by Czech player Katerina Zohnova who finished with 18 points and Dimitra Kalentzou who added 16, led narrowly, 41-37.

The Greeks led by as many as eight points late in the third period, but could never really extend their lead much farther, as the Israeli defence always remained strong. Indeed, early in the final quarter, Ramla tied the score at 59 apiece, as Tanasha Wright dropped in a lay-up book-ended by a pair of three-pointers by Rivi Grinboym, who finished with 20 points.

Sony Athinaikos battled back, establishing an eight-point lead by the final buzzer, to win the game, 88-81. But they had won the battle, while losing the war. Since the Israeli visitors had avoided a large enough loss to offset their 15-point margin in Game One,
Coach Adan Inbar’s Ramla Elitzur squad qualified for the Eurocup Finals thanks to a positive aggregate score of 155-147.

The Eurocup Finals series are also settled by the winner in aggregate points, and with leg one of that series also ending in a tie, next week’s game in Arras will decide the Eurocup Women’s Champion.

Photo Caption: Seattle Storm power forward Le’Coe Willingham led all scorers with 23 points in Thursday’s opening leg of the Eurocup finals, but it would not be quite enough as Willingham’s Israeli Elitzur Ramla squad battled its way to a 61-61 tie with opponent Arras Pays d’Artois. Willingham also had strong performances in both of Ramla’s semifinals match-ups.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/ Elitzur Ramla/Magriso Seffi©

Originally published Thu, March 17, 2011

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