April 9, 2022
EuroLeague Final Four: Upset, unexpected comeback set up Sunday’s final
All the favorites advanced to the EuroLeague Women Final Four, and the two semifinal games did not disappoint
The EuroLeague Final Four is rolling. We’re already past Friday’s semifinals, and Sunday will feature a nice appetizer in the third-place game before the biggest game of the European and overseas season: the EuroLeague Women final between Turkish side Fenerbahçe and the Hungarian side Sopron. Today, we are going to cover what happened when Avenida, Praha, Fenerbahçe and Sopron graced Istanbul’s Ülker Sports court in the semifinals, and we’ll cover the final next week, after Monday’s WNBA Draft.
Sopron 74, Avenida 69
With all of the favorites advancing to the Final Four, there were going to be no easy games. Avenida and Sopron finished second in their respective groups in the regular season, though Avenida ultimately got the top seed after the Russian teams were removed from the postseason. But Avenida (17 games played) and Sopron (16) ranked as the “worst” semifinal teams if you average all team statistics from the regular season and quarterfinals into a single metric.
Avenida got to celebrate Kahleah Copper‘s Most Valuable Player and Roberto Iñiguez’s Coach of the Year awards in early April, while the Spaniards also welcomed back Katie Lou Samuelson after not having her available for the first round of the postseason. Sopron had already welcomed back Stefanie Dolson in its two quarterfinals games.
The underdog Sopron hit the ground running, and although Avenida did enough to keep the score relatively close, the Spaniards couldn’t find their rhythm at all on offense. Kudos to Sopron on the defensive end, though, as it posted the best numbers on that side of the ball throughout the regular season and that certainly showed on Friday.
Avenida went down 13-5 with under five minutes to go in the first quarter, ended that quarter facing a 22-13 deficit, and never led in the game, whereas Sopron led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Surprisingly, the biggest reason for Sopron’s “upset” came a little bit out of left field, as Jelena Brooks played an impressive game in 36 minutes off the bench.
Brooks scored 27 points on her way to Player of the Game honors. It was truly a no-contest victory for her on an individual basis: She added four rebounds, two steals and one assist while only committing one turnover and hitting 10-of-16 field-goal attempts (three of those makes from beyond the 3-point line). Avenida never found a way to stop the Serbian, who led the team in scoring alongside Bernadett Hatar (15) and Gabby Williams (13).
As a result, Copper’s extraordinary season—both in the WNBA and overseas—was cut short. She did it all to try to reach the EuroLeague Women final, but her 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting weren’t good enough. Avenida failed Copper, with no other player reaching double digits in efficiency (Copper posted a 15 mark) or points. Karlie Samuelson, Emese Hof and Bella Alarie weren’t terrible (six points and three rebounds for each of the first two, no points but six rebounds for Alarie), but they struggled against Sopron’s frontcourt of Brooks, Hatar (10 rebounds in addition to her 15 points) and Dolson (four points and four rebounds).
Williams had some shaky minutes but was ultimately fantastic, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and a game-high three steals. Fellow import Katie Lou Samuelson was clearly limited in her return (20 minutes, nine points, four rebounds) and far from the player she’d proven to be earlier this year. Avenida made a fourth-quarter run to close the gap, but it was too late.
Fenerbahçe 83, Praha 74
Fenerbahçe had a rough start to the year, going 1-3 through the first four games of the season, but it didn’t drop another match in its next 11 outings, including a 2-0 series victory over TTT Riga in the quarterfinals. Praha found things a little bit harder and closed the regular season and quarterfinals with a combined 12-5 record and a 2-1 series victory against Baretta Famila Schio in the quarterfinals.
This game was the closest approximation to an All-Star affair, with seven players on the EuroLeague First and Second Teams. On top of that, Praha’s Maria Conde was the MVP runner-up, and Fenerbahçe’s Alina Iagupova finished third.
And that pair of players—Conde and Iagupova—impacted the outcome of the second semifinal the most. Oh, and of course, the absolutely mad crowd rooting for Fenerbahçe on home soil.
While it can be said that the first semifinal was a good but not great game, this match was incredible for the full 40 minutes—or, at least, until Fenerbahçe decided enough was enough. The first two quarters of play saw neither team lead by double digits, but Praha took a 12-point advantage in the third that Fenerbahçe ended up flipping into a 14-point advantage with a little over two minutes to go in the final quarter. Yes, that’s a 26-point turnaround by the Turkish side in a dominating 10-minute span.
In a game defined by offense way more than defense, eight players put up 10 or more points, four from each team. One of those, Conde, finished with 11 in just 25 minutes of playing time because of an injury. Praha will wonder what could have been had Conde not been forced to leave the court at the end of the third quarter with the Czech side being this close to knocking Fenerbahçe out for good. That, combined with a mighty performance from Iagupova (a game-high 24 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals) and the rest of the Turkish Monstars, ended up turning things around completely.
Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas were at the top of their games, putting up gaudy stat lines of 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals, three blocks and one assist from the former and 12 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and one steal from the latter. Incredibly, not even that led Praha to pull off the upset. And I have not even mentioned Teja Oblak’s 22-point, seven-dime, three-rebound contribution in 40 minutes. It just wasn’t meant to be…
…or maybe Fenerbahçe just was its actually-too-much self. Not only did the usual suspects put on the phenomenal performances they have been achieving all season, but the second unit also stepped up to the occasion. Amanda Zahui B. was a force of nature on defense and scoring inside, coming off the bench and finishing with 18 points, four rebounds, two blocks and one assist. Bria Hartley did a little bit of everything, too, with 10 points, three rebounds, six assists and a couple of steals. If Fenerbahçe’s comeback was about details, then Zahui B. and Hartley were two very big ones on Friday.
I can’t wrap this recap without mentioning EuroLeague Women Defensive Player of the Year Elizabeth Williams (11 rebounds, four points, two assists, one block), walking bucket Kayla McBride (15 points with a dime and a steal), Satou Sabally (nine points, three boards, two dimes, one steal) and two disappointing Praha players in Dragana Stankovic (two rebounds, one point and one steal in 10 minutes) and Veronika Vorackova (five points, two rebounds, two steals and one assist in 29 minutes). Both Stankovic and Vorackova could have done more to help Thomas, Jones and Praha as a whole maintain their lead and make it to the last game of the season.
The EuroLeague Women Final is scheduled to tip off on Sunday at 4 p.m. CET (10 a.m. ET). The third-place game will start at 1 p.m. CET (7 a.m. ET). A free stream of the games will be available on the EuroLeague Women YouTube channel.