December 4, 2021
Did we just witness the greatest overseas game ever?
UMMC Ekaterinburg and CB Avenida just played one of the best games in EuroLeague history
The game of basketball. The peach. The baskets. The nets. The boards. The players. The coaches. Everything around it. It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?
We’re just one week removed from the best week of EuroLeague play so far this season. But one thing I wasn’t expecting to happen so quickly was to go from the best week of the season to the best game of the year—and it wasn’t even close to anything in the previous two months of play. This CB Avenida versus UMMC Ekaterinburg game was circled on all of our schedules, and it delivered. It was one of the best games of the past 12 months, if not ever, and it had everything you love as a basketball fan.
Not only did the EuroLeague administrators put last year’s tournament finalists in the same regular-season group for the 2021-22 season, but they also scheduled their two games (one in Spain, the other in Russia) for the last week of the first and second halves of the season. It is not that those games are more meaningful than the other 12 games each team has to play. But the anticipation, and expectations, was high going into the Spanish and Russian teams’ first matchup of the year.
UMMC, in case you don’t know, is the EuroLeague’s version of Space Jam’s Monstars squad. Half of its roster is made up of current and former WNBA superstars, including Jonquel Jones, Allie Quigley, Maria Vadeeva, Emma Meesseman and Brittney Griner. It carried a perfect 6-0 record into this game—the only undefeated team through Week 6—and had scored 479 points in the first six weeks of play while only conceding 401. Oh, and Jones, Quigley and Griner had all missed games in that span.
Avenida, on the other hand, is an underdog masquerading as a perennial powerhouse. While not the lowest-budget team in the EL, the Spanish club is definitely playing in a completely different economic league than UMMC. Earlier this season, Avenida’s general manager said that having WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper playing for the team was only possible because the team signed her to a contract before the WNBA season started. It would have been impossible to sign her after her excellent regular season, let alone after the Chicago Sky’s run to the championship. Avenida also returned imports from previous years in sisters Katie Lou and Karlie Samuelson, along with Dallas Wings’ Bella Alarie. And the Spaniards got to tip-off boasting a 5-1 record.
On paper, this looked like the match of the year. In fact, just a few months ago, this was the final of the 2021 EuroLeague campaign, and it didn’t disappoint, with UMMC lifting the chip with a 78-68 victory on Apr. 18. But last Wednesday made history and left last year’s final—other than for the higher stakes—in the absolute margins when it came to top-tier, superstar-talent, sky-high-level-of-play basketball. Seriously.
If you haven’t watched this match, go ahead and do so. It’s free. Then, if you want, or if you can’t resist the appeal of more content related to this game, come back and read this column. This game was so unique, so incredibly perfect, that you just can’t skip over it. Just as you watched the men and women’s Olympic finals or the Sky defeat the Mercury in the WNBA Finals, you have to check this one out.
Let me start at the end, as stupid as that sounds. Final score: UMMC 110, Avenida 102. Before last week, when Praha defeated Riga 103-52, no team in the 2022 EL season had topped 100 points. This week, both UMMC and Avenida broke the 100-point barrier, and the two teams almost both reached Praha’s 103-point mark—going against each other. This game was an ode to the offensive game, to attacking hoops, to balling out hard as hell.
Heck, this was an ode to basketball, full stop.
From the first minutes of the match, I couldn’t believe what was happening on UMMC’s court. It felt like all players from both teams had been touched by divinity. They couldn’t miss. They could afford all buckets. They were dropping points left and right, dimes up and down, rebounds in diagonal directions. It was a bonafide celebration of basketball. I’m not exaggerating one bit. The first quarter ended at 28-24 and on pace for a 112-96 final score, and it ultimately was even better than that potential outcome.
It took Jones more than three minutes of playing time to score her first points, but she finished with 27 in 28 minutes. It took Copper no time at all. She balled out for the first eight points for Avenida, and she finished with a monster 34 points in 31 minutes. Copper shot the rock 20 times and hit 13 (65%) of those attempts, including three of her four attempted treys and five of her six free throw attempts. She was a goddess masquerading as a 6’1 guard dressed in Avenida’s blue tank top.
And even so, it was Vadeeva who, coming off the pine for UMMC and playing in her native Russia, turned into the type of villain Quentin Tarantino would sketch for any of his renowned flicks. Vadeeva logged only the sixth-most minutes (20) among players from UMMC. But only Jones was more efficient, 33 to 29 (in eight fewer minutes, mind you). Vadeeva is coming off back-to-back games in which she’s played 22 or fewer minutes and reached efficiency marks of 26 or more. She’s pulled down 11 rebounds in each of those games, scored 19 or more points, dished out at least one dime and blocked one or more shots. Vadeeva came into the game for the first time just a few minutes before the end of the first quarter, missed two layups… and then didn’t miss another shot for the remainder of the game, shooting 8-for-8 from the field.
It was weird seeing Quigley donning different threads from her Sky partner-in-crime Copper, but the two were incredible on opposing fronts. Quigley scored 22 points, Katie Lou Samuelson had 18 and Alex Bentley had 18 more, with the latter two going 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. One block for Meesseman, one block for Alarie (and one more for Vadeeva, because why not). Three steals for Maite Cazorla, and three more players with two thefts.
It was just mind-boggling, and you can watch every minute of it. Because, if you really care about basketball, about sports, about competition, you shouldn’t skip such a glorious game. Join us. Root for the WNBA players. Enjoy the game. Because you don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t.
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Golden nuggets from Week 7
This is a quick recap of what happened in the last game day in terms of individual performances worth highlighting, unique stat lines, efficient games, bad outings, forgettable outcomes and everything else my data-crunching abilities allowed me to come up with!
- It was always going to be impossible for this week to top last week. But the Avenida vs. UMMC game was all we needed to have a blast of a game day last Wednesday. Three players across the EuroLeague topped the 30-efficiency mark, and two of them took part in that match: Jones and Copper. Brionna Jones joined them in a three-way tie for the top spot with an efficiency of 33.
- Three more WNBA imports (Megan Gustafson, Satou Sabally and Quigley) finished among the top 10 in efficiency, with marks of 28, 25 and 24, respectively. Kayla McBride also made the top 12.
- It was incredible to watch Vadeeva deal with opposing players this week. She was unstoppable on offense with 21 points, was a steady presence on the boards with 11 rebounds and even handed out a couple of assists, while swatting a shot for the cherry on top of her stat line.
- A season-high 10 players put up double-doubles on Wednesday, and among those pulling down 10 rebounds, only Alyssa Thomas had fewer than 10 points. She only had five points but made up for it with a joint-slate-leading eight assists (Silvia Dominguez, Pelin Bilgic and Olivia Epoupa accrued that many dimes, too).
- Jonquel Jones, who seemingly can’t be stopped at this thing called basketball, had her fifth game in a row with an efficiency of at least 25. With the first leg of the regular season now complete, she’s the clear favorite for MVP and she keeps playing better each game, as ridiculous as that sounds. Her line on Wednesday? 27 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
- Shoutout to Sabally and Brionna Jones for their prior-outing-destroying performances. After easing into her debut by playing just 10 minutes, Sabally balled her way to a 24-minute game in which she finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, one dime and one steal and went 10-for-10 from the charity stripe. Jones also had her best game of the year by a mile with season highs in points (27), rebounds (16), and field goals made (11).
- Only one player could swat more than two shots on Wednesday: Beretta Famila’s Sandrine Gruda with three blocks against Galatasaray. That was great, but check her full stat line: 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a 20 efficiency while going perfect from the free-throw line. Oh, and have I mentioned that she became the second all-time scorer in the EuroLeague? Clocking in at 3,202 points, Gruda just overtook Diana Taurasi (3,200) and will set her sights on catching Ann Wauters (3,771 points).
- Poor KSC Szekszard couldn’t catch a break and fell to an 0-7 record after losing to TTT Riga. Agnes Studer did all she could by notching six steals for the second straight week. Epoupa tied that number against MBA Moscow on Wednesday.
- As if she was just shooting layups in her backyard basket, Ieva Pulvere shot 10 (!) 3-pointers for TTT Riga and made seven en route to 25 points in 36 minutes. She was key to Riga’s victory over KSC as she also contributed six rebounds, three steals and a couple of dimes.
- Other than for Dallas Wings’ Kayla Thornton (1 efficiency in 27 minutes with no points and no assists, five rebounds and a steal), it was a rather fantastic week for WNBA imports in the EuroLeague. Just seven of the 23 imports to log minutes on Wednesday finished with an efficiency below 10, and only two (Thornton and Epiphanny Prince) had an efficiency below 5.
- Natasha Howard was perhaps the most disappointing WNBA player last week, and it was Elizabeth Williams‘ turn in Week 7 as she could “only” finish with 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks. That outing, which 85% of EuroLeague players would probably sign up for every week, was a little bit down from her season averages of 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal and three (!) blocks per game.