March 20, 2022 

EuroLeague Final Four set and ready for tip-off

EuroLeague Final Four begins April 8

The EuroLeague Final Four is set. When the postseason started over a week ago, No. 1 seed Fenerbahçe and No. 2 seed Sopron quickly dealt with their quarterfinal series, advancing to the Final Four with two wins in two games.

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All of Avenida, Girona, Praha, and Famila Schio had to wait until this week to know whether they’d advance or not. With both underdogs (Girona and Famila Schio) down 0-1 in their respective series, this is how the remaining quarterfinals unfolded over the past few days.

Underdogs Famila Schio and Girona force game three

With two teams in, and four still trying to accomplish the feat, things were pretty open before last Tuesday’s tipoff. Praha and Avenida entered the week 1-0 ahead in their respective series with a chance to seal their Final Four tickets by getting the win in Gameday 2.

(B3) Famila Schio 69, (A2) USK Praha 56

Praha and Famila Schio gave us the best and tightest match in the first slate of quarterfinal games a week ago. Back then, Praha made a huge effort to end pulling off a monster 12-point comeback with under five minutes left. This time, though, it could be said this match ended in a no-contest victory for the Italians. Even though Schio endured a five-minute scoring drought that took from the middle of the third quarter to the start of the fourth, they still found a way to hold out and never allowed Praha to get closer than five points to their 48-point score by then.

In fact, Praha only led for just over three minutes in the first quarter and never with more than 10 points by any of the two teams on the scoreboard as Famila Schio went on to put as much as 16 points of distance between both teams in the third period. That wasn’t even remotely surprising, though, with Praha committing 13 turnovers that allowed Schio to score 14 pops off them. Most worrying of all for Praha were the zero points scored by the second-unit players on a day in which only seven players logged minutes for the Czech side.

Alyssa Thomas (40 minutes played), Teja Oblak (39), Maria Conde (39), and Brionna Jones (37) were the only players with more than 33 minutes of playing time, all of them from Praha. Of course, those large runs allowed three of the four to get double-double outings, but not even that was enough to get the win and a ticket to the Final Four. Jones (18 points, 17 rebounds, two dimes, two blocks) and Thomas (15 points, 14 boards, four assists, two steals, and one swat) were as good as advertised while Maria Conde put on a show herself with 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. The problem? Conde shot 27% from the floor on a game-high 22 (!) field-goal attempts, which was really tough to watch unfold.

Sandrine Gruda, a clear-cut MVP contender this season, couldn’t quite elevate Famila Schio in Gameday 1 but surely did this past Tuesday: 16 points, 14 rebounds, one assist and a couple of blocks made filled her fantastic stat line while she also hit more than half of her 15 FGA. Schio didn’t need anything otherworldly from WNBA import Diamond DeShields, who even “underperforming” still added seven points, four rebounds, and two assists to Schio’s collective effort in her 24 minutes of playing time. That wasn’t the case with Jasmine Keys, who put up a solid 10-point, seven-rebound, three-assist, two-steal, one block line without a single turnover to her name.

It is not that Praha can do much more than they already did. Yes, Veronika Vorackova played 30 minutes and finished with an efficiency of minus-2. Teja Oblak wasn’t incredible either with an efficiency of 3. But Jones, Thomas, and Conde were rather good, and not even that helped the Czech. Praha is getting back home for the deciding winner-take-all game three, but Famila Schio’s victory to tying the series could mark an inflection point and have flipped the series around.

Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper (2) drives to the basket against Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones (35) during a WNBA semifinals game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Sept. 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Chris Poss)

(B4) Spar Girona 81, (A1) Avenida 79 (OT)

A rough, rough game, this one. Avenida and Girona went hard against each other and the Catalan side got the better of Avenida to tie the series and send them to a third and definitive win-and-in match. Both teams combined for 42 personal fouls, there were tons of critiques to the refs from both sides, but ultimately Girona prevailed in OT after a very contested match all the way through.

Girona got an early 11-point lead and lead for an incredible 39 minutes of playing time, though it all came down to the very final seconds. No matter the statistical category you check, both teams will look very close to each other in every one of them except offensive rebounds (20 to 10, advantage Avenida) and blocks (12 to one, advantage Girona). This was quite an upset given Girona’s seasons and lucky bounce getting into the postseason after the Russian teams got knocked off it by the organization.

As many as five players finished with four or more personal fouls, including Laia Palau from Girona, and a clearly frustrated Emese Hof from Avenida. Boiling everything that happened down to referees’ decisions, though, would be falling into a very simplistic analysis. Rebekah Gardner and Kennedy Burke definitely had more to do with Girona’s victory than the zebras and their decisions. Gardner finished with the highest efficiency mark (28) while Burke posted a 20-figure. They did so to the tune of a double-double by the former (23 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and one steal) and a solid outing from the latter (18 points, four rebounds, two blocks, and one assist). Julia Reisingerova added three more blocks to Girona’s tally on that front.

Avenida, even though getting a very productive 33 minutes off Emese Hof (10 points, 13 rebounds, one assist), didn’t enjoy team-leader Kahleah Copper playing at the top of her talents. Playing only 29 minutes (a run cut short by her five personal fouls) didn’t help, and neither did her 35% shooting from the field on a game-high 20 field-goal attempts. Even then, Copper still reached 20 points going a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe while also contributing seven rebounds, two thefts, one dime, and one block.

Silvia Dominguez and Maite Cazorla played the most minutes for Avenida (36 and 37 respectively) and kept the team afloat, but with no player from the team hitting more than 50% of her shots it was hard for Avenida to keep the game close and ultimately send it to OT. Girona broke a 79-79 tie with 11.4 seconds left in the overtime as Gardner dropped a couple of freebies then and there. Avenida got the last chance to tie the game with a desperate floater by Cazorla, but it wouldn’t get through the rim sending the series to a win-or-go-home final game.

Quarterfinals Gameday 3: Favorites bent but didn’t break, made Final Four

As probable as it was for Famila Schio to pull the upset against Praha in their second game, it was equally improbable to have Girona defeating Avenida to tie the All-Spanish series. Fortunately for neutral fans that is what happened, so we got to enjoy a couple of win-and-in games taking place late this week. This is how things developed and the final results and teams qualified for the Final Four, which will tip off in April.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) drives on Chicago Sky Center Stefanie Dolson (31) to the basket during the WNBA Semifinals game between the Chicago Sky and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on September 28, 2021. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

(A2) USK Praha 90, (B3) Famila Schio 77

The first of the two win-and-get-in quarterfinal series didn’t leave a lot for the imagination of what could have happened. That was the case in the game that kicked off this series when Schio incredibly fumbled a double-digit lead to Praha, but that was it for the series. Game 2 was a trouncing, and so was the third and final affair between the Czech and Italian squads Friday with the former going through and making the 2022 Final Four.

While Sandrine Gruda proved key to Schio’s last victory, she went on a fading effort Friday even though she logged a team-high 36 minutes of playing time that she turned into a low eight-point, seven-rebound, two-assist, one-steal outing. The efficiency of 9 tells it all, as she could only score on 3-of-10 field-goal attempts while turning the ball over twice. Famila Schio was never close to pulling off the upset trailing by as many as 23 (!) points midway through the third quarter. In fact, the Italian side didn’t lead at any point while Praha did so for 39:54 of the 40 minutes.

Schio’s offense stalled and could only get 12 combined assists as Giorgia Sottana led the team with just four of them and no other player even reached three dimes on the day. Maria Conde, Alyssa Thomas, and Teja Oblak all dished out at least five assists for Praha in a 23-assist team effort. Praha kept the rotation short, just seven players, and gave a 21-minute run to six of them with all starters getting 30 or more minutes.

The mighty trio of Conde, Thomas, and Brionna Jones came back to their best levels of play, all of them scoring double-digit points (Conde led them all with 25) while pulling down six or more boards (Jones had the highest tally with 11 rebounds). Teja Oblak wasn’t incredible but still put up a nice nine-point, eight-assists outing. The surprise from Praha’s side was Veronika Vorackova, who got to score 18 points while getting three rebounds, three steals, and one dime to spare while shooting 58% from the floor on 12 FGA (including a 3-7 night from beyond the three-point arc).

Kim Mestdagh led Schio in points with 26 of them in a fantastic shooting night for her, but other than her no other player from Schio got an efficiency figure above 14 (four in Praha’s team did). Diamond DeShields leaves the EuroLeague with a nice 14-point, seven-rebound, two-steal outing as she saw Thomas and Jones advance to the Final Four to take on Fenerbahçe in April.

(A1) Avenida 74, (B4) Spar Girona 65

Avenida fans wanted to help as much as possible for Saturday’s home effort, organizing a full parade from the center of Salamanca to the arena to welcome the team to its must-win game. The team didn’t let them down. As expected (if only because of both teams’ seeds and disparities in the standings), the favorites got the relatively-easy victory against Girona and will be in the Final Four when it gets rolling in a couple of weeks.

The Catalan side started slow and found itself down six points by the end of the first period. That was probably the lesser of its problems, though, and the game proved that to actually be the case with Girona staying close and not falling down to a greater than 10-point distance until the fourth quarter. The problem? Shots just weren’t falling for Girona (36% from the field) while the hosts were just unstoppable at dropping buckets dumping 27-of-55 field goals on their opponents at a fantastic 49% clip.

After a first game in which Kahleah Copper tried to do too much (nine points on 16 shots) without succeeding at it, and a seemingly perfect (albeit in a losing effort) second game, Copper doubled down on that second outing and cooked herself another 20-plus point performance, this time scoring 23 points and pulling down 14 (!) rebounds to go with a couple of dimes to spare. So good was Copper that even turning the ball over a series-high eight times in this game alone she finished the match with the highest efficiency figure at 21.

Girona’s leader Laia Palau (who could have played her last EuroLeague game today as she approaches retirement) ran out of everything and was a net-negative in her 24 minutes on the court putting up a game-worst efficiency of 1 to go with a minus-7 plus-minus figure (two points, four assists, two turnovers). Frida Eldebrink came out of the left field to keep Girona’s hopes alive (15 points) while Kennedy Burke, Binta Drammeh, and Julia Reisingerova all hit double-digit points. Girona wasn’t bad, but Copper was just too much alone for them to advance.

Avenida had other good individual contributions from Karlie Samuelson (15 points, four rebounds) and Bella Alarie (12 points, three rebounds), but the key was another guard: Silvia Dominguez. The Spaniard didn’t put up gaudy numbers put her six points and six assists versus just one turnover were key for Avenida to pull off the feat of reaching the Final Four.

Submit your regular-season Awards ballot! Here’s mine

Here’s the link to vote for the 2021-22 EuroLeague Awards. You have until Sunday, March 27 to do so and you can submit one ballot (per device) every 24 hours. That’s a lot of chances for you to vote and swing the results, so you better start doing so as soon as you can!

Taking advantage of the two-week hiatus between this weekend and the Final Four (taking place on April 8-10), I’ll delve deeper into the picks and the reasoning at a later date. For now, take this look at my ballot as a brief preview of what is to come:

  • Most Valuable Player: Natasha Howard (Dynamo Kursk)
  • All-ELW Backcourt: Kahleah Copper (Avenida) and Alina Iagupova (Fenerbahçe)
  • All-ELW Frontcourt: Alyssa Thomas (Praha), Natasha Howard (Dynamo Kursk), Elizabeth Williams (Fenerbahçe)
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Elizabeth Williams (Fenerbahçe)
  • Young Player of the Year: Marine Fauthoux (Basket Landes)
  • Coach of the Year: Natalia Hejkova (Praha)

And until we meet next weekend, have fun!

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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