March 12, 2022 

EuroLeague Final Four field is emerging

The 2022 EuroLeague postseason finally arrived earlier this week

There were very dark times we had to go through during the past few months of overseas basketball. There were doubts, there were critiques, there were concerns, and most of all there were delays. But it’s finally going down, folks. The 2022 EuroLeague postseason finally arrived earlier this week, and it didn’t disappoint after a regular season that dragged for a month longer than originally scheduled because of a raging pandemic.

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Eight teams qualified for the quarter-finals, only for two of them (no. 1 seed UMMC and no. 4 seed Dynamo Kursk) to get removed from the postseason and replaced by the next-best clubs (TTT Riga and Spar Girona). And as we approach the middle of March and the Final Four to come next April, it’s time to recap what has happened during the last few games of postseason play.

Quarterfinals Gameday 1: All favorites get ahead

Here’s a roundup of what took place in the first four games of postseason play through last Wednesday. There weren’t any surprises in the first gameday of postseason matches with all favorites getting more or less comfortable wins against their opponents to stay on top of their respective three-game series.

(A1) Avenida – 77, (B4) Spar Girona – 63

The All-Spanish matchup made possible by UMMC and DK exclusion from the postseason yielded a not-so-tight first game between Avenida and Girona, which was actually not surprising at all. Avenida welcomed Kahleah Copper back to town after she went to the USA for a few days for personal reasons, while Katie Lou Samuelson remained off the court seemingly with a nagging injury.

Girona got into the postseason by virtue of finishing fifth in Group B after the regular season, but they always seemed to be a tier below the best teams in the 2022 EuroLeague Women campaign. It was funny but not good for Girona to find Giedre Labuckiene (17) at the top of the efficiency leaderboard from Game 1 as the Catalan side went on to lose that match. The truth is that the six next-best players on that front donned Avenida’s threads (all of them with EFF figures between 10 and 16).

Avenida got off to a 15-4 start to the game and only trailed once all game just because of Girona getting the first bucket of the game. Other than that, Avenida dominated from start to finish and only gave up the scoring difference in the fourth quarter (11-14) when all was already decided. Perfumerias Avenida didn’t need much from Copper (nine points, four rebounds, two assists in 31 minutes shooting a horrid 25% on 16 field-goal attempts) but enjoyed good outings by veteran Karlie Samuelson (11 points, three rebounds, and one steal) and Wings import Bella Alarie (four points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one board in just 19 minutes).

Kennedy Burke and Rebekah Gardner, two of Spar Girona’s staples throughout the regular season, both disappointed with none of them topping 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, or three steals while turning the ball over four and three times respectively. Girona is clearly the underdog here and is fighting for what could be a rather huge upset if they can send Avenida home in three games. Hard to see that happen after how this first game developed, though.

(B1) Fenerbahçe – 77, (A4) TTT Riga – 56

The Turkish side from Istanbul and clear-cut favorite to lift the trophy in April kicked off its postseason run with a stomping of TTT Riga, a fifth-seed masquerading as a fourth after UMMC got removed from the competition and bumped up every team’s seed in Group A one spot in the regular-season standings. If I’m brutally honest, this series never made much competitive sense whether Fenerbahçe was facing Riga or the French of BLMA. None of those two squads are even remotely close to the Turkish, as this Game 1 proved.

The quartet of Elizabeth Williams, Alina Iagupova, Kayla McBride, and Satou Sabally played to the best of its members’ levels, and even though Fenerbahçe was never in danger of dropping this match, all of those four still logged 31 or more minutes of playing time. Riga was still in the game with two minutes to go in the second (down 25-30) but that’s all they could do during what ultimately became a loss for the Latvian side.

All of the main four performers from Fenerbahçe shot 50% or better from the field on seven or more field-goal attempts. Sabally hit 4-of-5 three-pointers and logged one of two double-doubles from the Turkish side along with Williams (Sabally put up 17 points and 10 rebounds, Williams 11 points and 10 boards). Iagupova had one of her classic do-it-all performances with 15 points, five rebounds, four dimes, five steals, and two blocks going 7-of-14 from the floor without a single free-throw attempt. And even Amanda Zahui B. got a couple of points and four rebounds in her low nine minutes of playing time.

Riga could not be too happy about their star Jasmine Thomas finishing the game with 19 points and five rebounds, but eight turnovers on top of that, pretty much nullifying most of her positives. It was center Daugile Sarauskaite with a double-double by the way of 10 points and 12 boards who led Riga in Game 1, but that was never going to be enough for the Latvians to overcome the tall task of competing against the talent boasted by Fenerbahçe.

(A2) USK Praha – 72, (B3) Famila Schio – 70

The most balanced series on paper also turned out to be so on the court once we got to watch Praha and Famila Schio going against each other last Tuesday. I wonder if some folks out there tuning into YouTube’s stream of the game to watch the last minutes got disappointed by the result just five minutes before the final buzzer and missed on the cardiac ending, though. That’s because Famila Schio built an impressive 12-point lead with just five minutes to go in the fourth period… only for Praha to pull off an even more impressive feat coming back from that double-digit difference and outscoring the Italian side by two. Uh, oh, the effort.

Brionna Jones (who else, I guess) put up a layup with 4:59 left on the clock, and Famila Schio’s next bunch of possessions went like this: missed 2PA, offensive rebound, missed 3PA, turnover, made 2PA, turnover, missed 2PA, missed 3PA, missed FTA, made FTA, turnover, missed 2PA, turnover, made FTA, missed FTA. For those not keeping track at home, that’s 15 events of which only four were positive (three made baskets, one offensive rebound). Of course, all of that turned Famila Schio’s 54-66 lead into a final 72-70 defeat to Praha and a very tough road ahead for Schio if they want to advance to the Final Four.

The best players on both teams performed to sublime levels, as they have always done this season. Starting with the WNBA imports, both Brionna Jones (16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal) and Alyssa Thomas (11 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal) were a bit shakier than normal even though they logged 40 and 39 minutes of playing time–nothing to be too worried about considering the sky-high expectations-bar they set themselves through the regular season. Other than those two, Teja Oblak and Maria Conde lifted Praha to the W with 17 and 18 points respectively, though the best player to grace the court on Tuesday happened to play for the Italian squad.

Sandrine Gruda‘s double-double surely wasn’t enough for Famila Schio, and even though she got a nice 14-10 dub-dub on points and boards while adding three dimes, three steals, and two blocks without a single turnover, Gruda alone was just never going to defeat Praha by herself. Kim Mestdagh‘s 18 points helped a bit, as did Jasmine Keys‘ 12 points and seven rebounds, but the late collapse undid everything Schio had done through the first three quarters and a half of play.

(B2) Sopron – 60, (A3) BLMA – 42

Sopron simply did everything better than BLMA to get this best-of-three quarterfinals series going. They shot better (49% to 38% from two, 25% to 15% beyond the arc), dished out more than twice the French’s assists (17 to 7), and demolished BLMA on the boards (45 to 28). The Hungarian side didn’t even need WNBA import Gabby Williams playing at the top of her abilities (29 minutes and a good 14 plus-minus but only three points, five rebounds, two dimes, and two steals) to defeat BLMA easily last Tuesday.

With Gabby a little bit off her usual play, it was all about Bernadett Hatar, Briann January, and most of all Jelena Brooks as the three of them scored on double-digit figures while pulling down eight, seven, and 10 rebounds respectively. Brooks got a nice 16-10 double-double, Hatar finished 16-8 on that front, and although January couldn’t pull off the feat, she still cooked herself a phenomenal 10-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist, two-steal line with just three turnovers over her 34 minutes of play.

Olivia Epoupa, perhaps the lone woman able to give Sopron some fight through this series, came back to the French team after going through some injury issues of late but couldn’t do that much finishing with an interesting 3-3-3-3 stat line in which she only missed on blocking a shot. A surprisingly good Mamignan Toure (13 points, five rebounds) was the lone bright light doing it for BLMA as no other player from the French side could even reach more than seven points–other than Toure.

Quarterfinals Gameday 2: Fenerbahçe and Sopron advance to Final Four

The first set of matches gave way to the second one with no rest days–for fans watching, I mean!–in between the last of the former (Gameday 1) and the first of the latter (Gameday 2). Again, there were some adjustments from the losing teams in Gameday 1, but those weren’t enough to overcome the expected results and wave goodbye to the postseason while both favorites (Fenerbahçe and Sopron) sealed their Final Four tickets.

(B1) Fenerbahçe – 88, (A4) TTT Riga – 65

The Turkish went to the locker 16 points ahead by the end of the second quarter and that distance grew to as large as a 28-point gap at some point. And that is pretty much all you need to know about this game and how utterly uncompetitive this matchup already was in the first leg and ultimately this second, Final-Four-sealing game for the no. 1 seed Fenerbahçe.

Of course, this is surprising no one. Riga didn’t help itself committing a game-high 26 turnovers and also topping Fenerbahçe’s 17 personal fouls with 24 themselves. Honestly, it was never meant to be for the Latvian side. So much so, that even with Satou Sabally out for the evening (no official explanation as I’m writing this on Friday) and the Turkish throttling their game a bit, they still enjoyed an out-of-left-field performance by the least-used import Amanda Zahui B. who finally had her breakout game putting up a 22-point, eight-rebound, two-assist, three-steal line while committing no turnovers and shooting 58% from the floor on 12 FGA (she also went 7-for-7 from the charity stripe).

Riga, led by a fantastic Jasmine Thomas effort (21 points and five assists) could never fight Fenerbahçe and dropped the match by an even worse point difference (-23 on Thursday to -21 last Tuesday) this time than in Game 1. Shout out to Ieva Pulvere for her packed stat line (14 points, three rebounds, three steals, and four assists) and Laura Meldere (five points, eight rebounds, two assists, and one each of the steals and blocks varieties). Special mention to the oft-great Elizabeth Williams (12 points, seven dimes, six boards, five steals, and three blocks) and Alina Iagupova (16 points, seven boards, four assists, four steals, and a block).

Fenerbahçe is now in the Final Four and will face the winner of the Praha vs. Famila Schio series in April. Praha leads 1-0.

(B2) Sopron – 72, (A3) BLMA – 65

After a rather disappointing first postseason game, it felt like Gabby Williams had had enough of the critics so she just decided to let everybody know what she’s capable of. And she did indeed. Gabby had a ridiculous performance leading Sopron in points (28), rebounds (11), and blocks (two). She also added three dimes and a steal to spare while only turning the ball over twice in 35 minutes of playing time, the second-highest mark among players involved in the game. No wonder Williams posted the highest efficiency (32) with Bernadett Hatar (20) the only player above a 14-figure.

Olivia Epoupa, BLMA’s true hope to achieve the upset, also improved with a nice 10-point, nine-rebound, one-steal outcome that just wasn’t good enough to carry BLMA to a third and deciding game next week. Haley Peters, Ana Dabovic, and Mamignan Toure all hit double-digit scoring marks but Sopron still dominated in every statistical category other than steals. In fact, BLMA never took the lead through the full game with Sopron playing on top of the French side for 39:46 minutes on the day.

Stefanie Dolson played 14 minutes in her second EuroLeague Women with Sopron after logging 16 in Game 1, and although she’s still getting accustomed to the team she’s taking baby steps finishing with five points and three rebounds to close the QF series. Hatar, the tallest woman to grace overseas competition, put on another fantastic outing with 16 points and six rebounds to go with one dime, one theft, and a couple of swatted shots. Briann January had an off day (six points, one rebound, three assists, and one steal) but went a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line while having a plus-minus mark of 7, showing how dominant Sopron was throughout the game.

Sopron is now in the Final Four and will face the winner of the Avenida vs. Girona series in April. Avenida leads 1-0.

Looking ahead to the remaining QF games

After a week packed full of games, the EuroLeague will go dormant until next Tuesday, March 15 when Famila Schio and Praha will face each other in the second game of their QF series. Girona and Avenida will do it one day later, on Wednesday, with no games scheduled for Thursday and another back-to-back set of matches (if needed) scheduled for Friday (Praha vs. Famila Schio) and Saturday (Avenida vs. Girona).

Once the Final Four matchups are settled by the end of next week, though, we’ll have to wait for the ball to get rolling three last times this campaign. No games will be on the qualified teams until the Final Four competition tips off on Friday, April 8 (two semifinals on a winner-takes-all format) followed by the 2022 EuroLeague Women Final on Sunday, April 10 (and the 3rd Place game, also scheduled to take place earlier that day).

Until then, enjoy the weekend, get ready for the last few games before the stakes got at their highest, and remember that you can rewatch (or catch up!) with everything that has already taken place in the EuroLeague thanks to FIBA’s YouTube channel, in case you want to do your own team scouting leading up to the Final Four next month!

Written by Antonio Losada

International freelance writer covering the WNBA overseas. Bylines at places, touching different bases. Always open to discussion over @chapulana || Full portfolio

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