December 10, 2022 

EuroLeague Week 5: Fenerbahçe wins battle of titans against Praha

What we learned from this week's EuroLeague action

When the organizers of the EuroLeague built the 2022-23 schedule, they must have known that people would be hungry for basketball coming off the first break of the year. The EuroLeague’s return saw games split into two days, one for each group, with all Wednesday matchups featuring teams in Group A.

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It might have been just a coincidence, but it sure didn’t look like it: The competition kicked off its three-week pre-Christmas sprint with a clash between Fenerbahçe and Praha, both Final Four participants last year.

Praha had two chances at finishing the game in the final five seconds of regulation. Valeriane Vukosavljevic (her 2-point shot was deflected by Kayla McBride) and Alyssa Thomas (her layup was ruled to be out of time) couldn’t break a 69-69 tie.

Fenerbahçe had one last chance before the game went to overtime with Alina Iagupova (25 points, five assists, three rebounds, three steals, two blocks) inbounding a lob pass that went nowhere. In the extra period, though, the match turned into a no-contest affair in favor of Fenerbahçe.

Praha scored three points in overtime to 13 for Fenerbahçe. Brionna Jones, playing her first EuroLeague game this season, scored Praha’s three points and finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. Thomas put up another double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds). No other player from Praha reached a double-digit efficiency mark, though.

Fenerbahçe enjoyed Iagupova’s return (she had been out since Week 1) and had two more players hit at least 16 points (Natasha Howard and McBride). Emma Meesseman and Olivia Epoupa also logged rare lines: nine points, six boards, six assists and two blocks for Meesseman; eight points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals for Epoupa.

This is the Fenerbahçe team that we all expected from the get-go. It took the Turkish squad a little bit of time to kick into high gear, but it has definitely gotten there. Howard will leave the team after the next break, but that will open the door for Breanna Stewart to arrive in Istanbul. The future is looking bright for Fenerbahçe (3-2), which is finally over .500 and about to face two opponents with the same record in the next two weeks.

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Group A stays tight

In the first match of Week 5 between Virtus Bologna and Olympiacos, the Greek side stayed close to the Italian side in the first half but ended up suffering its fifth defeat in as many games, 79-63. Virtus entered the second quarter trailing Olympiacos 26-22 but never lost another frame, with the game-deciding third (21-10) and fourth (18-11) periods clearly favoring the Italian side.

The extraordinary Megan Gustafson (21-point, 10-rebound double-double) couldn’t win her first game of the year with teammate Anna Stamolamprou contributing 21 points but only one other teammate scoring in double figures. The contrast with Virtus couldn’t have been larger, as four Virtus players hit 11-plus points. Kitija Laksa led her team with a double-double of 18 points and 14 boards (along with two steals and two blocks). Cecilia Zandalasini, the former Minnesota Lynx player, finished with 11 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

The closest game of Wednesday, though, pitted two EuroLeague newcomers against each other as Polkowice won its fourth game of the season over Valencia, 76-73. The Polish team went up by four with 1:28 on the clock and forced a deciding turnover to get the victory.

Stephanie Mavunga (18 points, 13 rebounds) got a double-double, and Artemis Spanou (17 points, efficiency of 21) was the other main contributor for Polkowice on a day in which seven players logged at least 11 minutes and made at least one shot from 3-point range.

Two players from Valencia (Lauren Cox and Marie Gulich) each finished with at least 10 points, six rebounds and two assists. That wasn’t enough for Valencia, which had won its last two games but will have to reassess its game plans going forward.

Wrapping up Wednesday, Tango Bourges easily dealt KSC its third defeat of the year with an 83-62 victory. The French side was up by seven points at the end of the first quarter; that point difference had more than doubled at halftime and grew to as many as 21 points throughout the game.

The only statistic in which KSC put up more numbers than Tango was turnovers (22 to 11), and that starts to explain the final result. Even though the trio of Ruthy Hebard (double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds), Victoria Vivians and Sydney Wallace combined for 45 points, KSC’s other players only combined for 17 points.

Tango Bourges enjoyed a ridiculous performance by Kayla Alexander (15 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks) that saw her reach an efficiency of 30. Yvonne Anderson scored the most points in the game (23), while Laetitia Guapo and Sarah Michel both stole three possessions while adding 10 and five points, respectively.

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Landes gets out of the Group B cellar

Thursday’s games followed a similar pattern to Wednesday’s: Two couldn’t have been closer, but the remaining matchups didn’t leave a lot of room for imagination, becoming no-contest affairs.

In the second-most anticipated game of the week, Avenida ran reigning champion Sopron out of its own gym in a 75-53 victory. It was all over by halftime, with the Spanish side leading 46-24 and nearly lapping its opponents on the scoreboard.

Avenida built a lead as large as 29 points and dominated in assists with very smooth offensive play. In contrast, Sopron finished with shooting percentages of 31% from the field and a paltry 8% from 3-point range.

Even with only two players in double figures (Mariella Fasoula with 13 points and recently signed Bridget Carleton with 17), Avenida found a way to involve all of its players. Ten of the 11 players used on Thursday scored at least one point, and six had at least one assist.

Famila Schio, the other leading team in Group B, needed to put on its strongest effort to date to fend off CBK Mersin at home, edging the Turkish side 76-72. Chelsea Gray, debuting with CBK, tied the game at 72 with a 2-point shot with just 45 seconds on the clock. But Giorgia Sottana put Famila Schio ahead on the next possession, and CBK would never regain the lead, improving Famila Schio’s record to 4-1 on the season.

DeWanna Bonner (19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) and Jonquel Jones (18 points, 14 rebounds) put up double-doubles while Gray finished with a team-leading 21 points and six assists. Tiffany Hayes (11 points, eight boards) fell just two rebounds short of a double-double, while Briann January and Quanitra Hollingsworth also played for the Turkish club, bringing its cadre of (active and former) WNBA players up to six.

On the other side, Famila Schio has five players with WNBA experience: Astou Ndour, Rhyne Howard, Marina Mabrey, Amanda Zahui B. and Kim Mestdagh. Mabrey added 12 points, Howard bagged seven, and Jasmine Keys had six points and eight rebounds to help Schio stay tied with Avenida atop Group B.

On a brighter note for Hungarian basketball fans, DVTK broke its two-game losing streak against Girona by defeating the Spanish side 64-58. After Girona took a 33-32 halftime lead, DVTK came out of the locker room with its batteries ultra-charged and put together a 21-13 third quarter from which Girona could never recover.

DVTK struggled on the offensive boards compared to Girona (nine to 17), which led to a commensurate gap in second-chance points (eight to 17). But the Hungarian side forced Girona to shoot 0-for-10 from beyond the arc and only allowed one player (Marianna Tolo, 21) to score more than 10 points. Maria Araujo contributed eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds, but she, Tolo and WNBA import Rebekah Gardner (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists) were the only ones with an efficiency above four.

DVTK used a top-heavy rotation in which six players topped 25 minutes, with five of them logging at least 28 and Darcee Garbin getting 35 minutes. Four players scored at least 10 points and pulled down at least five rebounds each. The face of the team this season, Arella Guirantes, had another great outing with 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists and the lone blemish of four turnovers.

The final game of the day pitted the two bottom-feeders of Group B, with Landes getting the better of Kangoeroes Mechelen, 76-71. Neither team built a double-digit lead in this match, and there were eight lead changes with the score (somehow) never tied.

Landes, winless before the break, has now stopped a four-game losing streak. The Belgian side Mechelen has sandwiched its lone win of the season in the third week of play with two defeats. Mechelen is tied with Landes with a 1-4 record, though it loses the tiebreaker and therefore trails everybody in Group B at this point.

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The deciding factor in this game was Landes’ bench, which outscored Mechelen’s second unit 28-12. Former Atlanta Dream player Celine Dumerc led the French side in efficiency (22), finishing with 13 points, five boards, four dimes and two steals off the bench.

On Mechelen’s end, it was another former WNBA player, Ziomara Morrison, who had the best performance with a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double. Four more players on her team scored at least nine points, and Lisa Berkani had a strong all-around contribution with 11 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals. Too bad for the Hungarian side that all of the work its starters did was undone by the second unit.

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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