Eurosport Turkey basketball commentator Uygar Karaca was naturally on hand in Istanbul for the FIBA Euroleague Women Final Four tournament. Today, BallinEurope posts his impressions on the competition and what the future may hold for the contenders.
After long, exhausting league play in Euroleague Women, the intense traffic of the Final Eight round has now ended. Who won it in İstanbul? The Spanish. But we already know that from the de facto semifinals: Ros Casares Valencia made it 3-for-3 with the win against Spartak Moscow Vidnoje while Rivas Ecopolis clinched first place in its group by beating both the Turkish powerhouses, first Galatasaray and second Fenerbahçe. Below runs a summary of some important highlights from the tournament.
The Final: Ros Casares Valencia 65, Rivas Ecopolis 52
No, this wasn’t merely just another final. Why not? Because it could represent the end of an era. According to rumours that have been confirmed by a Valencian TV reporter, Germany-based Ros, owner of Ros Casares, was about to make a decision regarding the future of the club. Naturally, the result of this final would be crucial: In other words, if they won, Ros Casares will go on; if they didn’t, who knows what will happen next season? It could be said that this was a final of yeses and noes.
Ros Casares’ status in this fight was as the favourite, and they did what other champions have done in the past: put stars into one team and make them play as much as they can. Imagine what would happen if you had Lauren Jackson, Ann Wauters, Sancho Lyttle and Maya Moore in your starting five, with Laia Palau as backup guard plus Jana Vesela and Isabelle Yacobou Delihou as bench players. Yes, they were powerful.
The rival from Madrid, Rivas Ecopolis, was the surprise package in this tournament. Lucas Mondelo sat next to me during the semifinal as we spoke a language that he calls “SpanEnglish.” What made Mondelo unhappy was that his team, Salamanca, finished the Spanish league’s regular season in second place while Rivas placed fourth. “We beat Rivas three times this season!” he says.
Yes, this final was like the unexpected underdogs and the ultimate favourites but was not without excitement. The small town of Madrid fought until the end but ultimately were exhausted after a hard week’s work and from the ultra-intensive man-to-man defense played by Casares. There were times when Rivas took control, but the uncontrollable factors came from Lyttle’s deadly long jumpers (she ultimately went 9-of-14 on twos for 18 points) and timely first-half layups from Silvia Dominguez (who put in her season-high 13 points) in stretches when Rivas had difficulty scoring.
Yes, being a champion is not easy and Rivas knew that already. Elisa Aguilar, playing against her former team, said after the match against Beretta Famila that they felt no pressure whatsoever. They think day-to-day and play without expectations. According to team president Jose Luis Perez Cereceda, they had already surpassed their preseason goals, which was to get to the Final Eight and to make it into the domestic league playoffs as the no. 3 or 4 seed.
No, there are sometimes things about which nothing can be done. Asjha Jones was extraordinary in the first half for Rivas again with her high-percentage two-point shooting contributions, while Laura Nicholls and Sandra Pirsic were literally fighting under the rim. Anna Cruz was the important assistant of Aguilar on the court and at the same time defended Maya Moore, a player nearly 10cm taller and bigger, not to mention her basketball skills of course. Finally, Amaya Valdemoro, who has already written her name in the Spanish basketball history books, was playing after nearly five months of injury and we don’t know what kind of pain she felt in the tournament. The courage of Gema Garcia (165cm/5’5”) to go under the rim and snag an offensive rebound over Wauters is admirable but sometimes not enough. Valencia was simply the better team. Rivas was exhausted enough to manage only 15 points in the second half, and Valencia’s depth proved too much for the challengers.
Other Yeses and Nos
Aside from the final, what did we learn from the Final Eight?
No, there was no Alba Torrens, the 2012 FIBA Europe women’s player of the year, as she is injured and couldn’t help her team, Galatasaray, but yes, we had her coach, Miguel Mendez, from his days running Celta Vigo.
No, there was no Salamanca because they were eliminated by Beretta Famila Schio in the quarterfinals, but yes, we had Lyttle and Dominguez from last year’s winning squad changing sides in leaving Salamanca to sign with Valencia and thus change the destiny of this match.
Yes, Ros Casares coach Roberto Iniguez was not as famous as former leader Nataila Hejkova, who left in December after the team’s elimination from the Copa Del Reina, but Iniguez was enthusiastic about achieving something that no one ever had in club history: winning the Euroleague.
Yes, the sides from Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe had a very good chance to make it to the finals, but they learned that much more is needed beyond good players – and so no, they did not manage to get to the podium. Fenerbahçe lost against UMMC Ekaterinburg in the third-place match while Galatasaray beat Spartak Moscow for fifth place.
Yes, there is a great rivalry between these teams but what happened in the match between them, mainly initiated by Fenerbahçe fans throwing some sort of burning fuses, is unacceptable. Yes, Fenerbahçe beat Galatasaray after that mess, but the Rivas match was much more significant and the support was relatively so low. Yes, the attendance record was broken with the derby at 8574 attendees at Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall, but no, the tournament did not have high priority for Istanbul fans, which can be deduced from the general attendance figures.
Yes, the team for Schio, Beretta Famila, was not one of the main favourites with their moderate team and first-year coach Maurizio Lasi, but they ended quite close to victories against Fenerbahçe and Rivas. No, Wisla Can-Pack probably did not expect their eighth-place finish, as a team who had recently cracked the final four.
Yes, for the fifth consecutive time, UMMC Ekaterinburg finished in third place. They were desperate because just before the first and decisive match against Ros Casares, Sue Bird suffered a broken nose and could not play. Without her, UMMC did not find a rhythm and lost their chances for a finals appearance. Olga Arteshina and general manager Maxim Ryabkov was some unhappy about this, adding that they wished there were a semifinal round.
Finally, yes, Spartak Moscow did not make it to the last match this time after five years of final appearances, but no, their ambition is not deceased. They’ll continue with Pokey Chatman, whom Becky Hammon calls the greatest coach in Europe.
In conclusion, although some teams found the new format exhausting, the increased numbers of matches gave followers great joy and chance to see their favourite sides and players again and again. Yes, the Euroleague Women season is over now but no, the fight goes on. The domestic league campaigns await the women to decide next year’s EL contenders. And I hope to be there again.