March 5, 2022
Superlative performances from the EuroLeague regular season
And a reshuffled EuroLeague postseason bracket, with a new No. 1 seed
The delayed games during the EuroLeague season have made the bridge between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason much shorter. We are now in the middle of a two-week break until the quarterfinals start on March 8. It’s not quite the month-long hiatus the EuroLeague organizers had planned, but still a sizable one to take advantage of and reflect on the season.
So, instead of looking forward to the quarterfinals, as we did last week, this time we’ll address what happened through the 14 weeks of the regular season. If you have been following this column, you know that, more often than not, we’ve reviewed some statistical nuggets from the games each week. This will be similar, only bigger, better, faster and stronger. We’ll go through the best games and individual performances of the season. But before we move on to the fun…
FIBA bans Russian teams and officials from international competition
It happened last Tuesday and escalated on Wednesday. FIBA made it official on its social media platforms, including Twitter, and EuroLeague Women organizers echoed it.
FIBA stated that the organization had scheduled a meeting on March 25, but mere hours after that initial statement, it shared the aforementioned tweet. That means that the two Russian teams that had qualified for the quarterfinals, UMMC and Dynamo Kursk, are now out of the EuroLeague postseason. The organizers decided to go ahead with a full reseeding of the postseason, including reorganizing all of the quarterfinal matchups and dealing with the implications that will have in lower-level competitions such as the EuroCup and the Europe Cup.
Instead of automatically advancing Praha and Sopron (the other quarterfinalists on that side of the bracket) to the next round, FIBA opted to go back to the drawing board and put the next-best teams from the regular season (TTT Riga from Group A, Spar Girona from Group B) in the postseason bracket. With UMMC originally being the No. 1 seed, every single matchup changed when the Russian team was removed. This is the final bracket, with games still scheduled to start on the same date, March 8.
The WNBA players who had been playing for those Russian teams and are impacted by the news are: Natasha Howard, Arike Ogunbowale, Epiphanny Prince, Emma Meesseman, Maria Vadeeva, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones and Brittney Griner.
Top five games of the EuroLeague regular season
Narrowing down the 112 regular-season games to just a cream-of-the-crop five outings is a tall task. But I’ll make my best effort. Feels like yesterday when this column got off the ground and the season was just tipping off…
5. Week 10, Famila Schio (71) vs. Sopron (70)
Looking at the final score of this game doesn’t even start to tell the full story. The teams combined for 83 rebounds, posted 16 assists each, and came out firing on offense. Sopron attempted 23(!) 3-point shots, though it could only hit 18%, while Famila Schio finished with 74(!!) field-goal attempts, of which it made 47.4% (only attempting nine 3-pointers). While there were not many superb individual performances in this game (only Sandrine Gruda posted an efficiency above 20), there were plenty of above-average ones. Two double-doubles (Gruda and Diamond DeShields), three near-dub-dubs (Shey Peddy falling three rebounds short, Jelena Brooks just one rebound away and Nevena Jovanovic only two points shy), a three-block game by Jasmine Keys and three players with 36 or more minutes played (in fact, Brooks and DeShields logged 40 including overtime). Sopron tied the game with 30 seconds to go in overtime, scored one more freebie to get the lead, surrendered it on the next possession, and couldn’t score in the final 10 seconds.
4. Week 1, BLMA (75) vs. USK Praha (74)
This was the first game of the season and the welcoming of Olivia Epoupa to the world—if you hadn’t watched her ball before. Epoupa and BLMA defeated Praha by a measly point. The two squads were separated by three points with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter when Epoupa dropped a floater to make it a one-point game. No team would lead by more than two points from that moment until the final buzzer. Epoupa got fouled on a reckless defensive play by Praha with less than a second on the clock, went to the line, and quashed the Czech squad’s hopes by making one of the two freebies. Praha had yet to land the likes of Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, but Dragana Stankovic (efficiency of 26), Maria Conde (20) and Teja Oblak (18) should have been enough to get the W … except that they met Olivia Epoupa.
3. Week 2, Dynamo Kursk (78) vs. Galatasaray (76)
Galatasaray has probably been the most disappointing team of this year’s EuroLeague competition. It looked great at times and boasted an MVP candidate in Tina Krajisnik but ultimately missed the postseason. This game described the Turkish side’s season in a nutshell. Krajisnik posted a game-high 29 efficiency alongside two more top-three marks from Pelin Bilgic (26) and Anete Steinberga (23), with all three players logging 35 or more minutes. But it wasn’t enough to defeat a Howard-led Kursk, which edged Galatasaray by just a bucket. The game couldn’t have been more balanced, as the teams finished within three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and two turnovers of each other. Galatasaray trailed by five with just 2:10 to go and flipped the score to 76-74 in their favor with just 25 seconds left, only to give Howard an easy bucket in the paint and commit a foolish turnover with just seven seconds left—which, of course, Howard wasn’t going to let go of.
2. Week 4, UMMC (75) vs. USK Praha (73)
With no team leading by more than three points throughout the final 8:48, this game could have given you a heart attack. Praha took the lead with fewer than six seconds on the clock after Thomas found Brionna Jones in the paint. But UMMC is UMMC, and Alex Bentley (who had not made a 3-pointer in the game) saved her best shot for the absolute last second as her 3-pointer beat the buzzer and put the Russians two points ahead when all was said and done. Praha dominated on defense with 13 steals to UMMC’s three, but not even all of those extra possessions were enough for them to trump the team from Yekaterinburg.
1. Week 7, UMMC (110) vs. Perfumerias Avenida (102)
I wrote a full column on this game in December, so you know it’s going to take the No. 1 spot on this list. The ending wasn’t the most climatic, but this match featured two teams scoring more than 100 points each on at least 55% shooting from the field, four players with efficiency figures of 24 or more, probably the best off-the-bench performance of the year (from Vadeeva) and the second-best individual scoring explosion of the season (Kahleah Copper‘s 34 points on 20 shots). See it to believe it.
Top 10 performances of the season
All right, the section above on the best games of the year was tough, but this one was even more challenging. For context, I picked five out of 112 games (4.5% of all games played), but now I’m picking 10 out of 2,104 player games (0.05%) this season! To make matters even harder, I limited myself to one game per player.
But the work is done now, so sit tight, enjoy and leave your comments at the bottom, because I’m sure we’ll agree on at least eight of the 10 picks. Or something…
Bonus. Dragana Stankovic (USK Praha) vs. TTT Riga (Week 6)
When I started crafting this list, I considered an initial set of around 20 player games. When I finished trimming it, I couldn’t leave this performance out, even if it makes it 11 total instead of 10. Stankovic’s outing is the worst on this list on a pure efficiency basis (28 compared to at least 30 from all other players), but it’s the best in plus/minus (38), as the Serb put up a ridiculous 13-point, 10-rebound, five-block, four-steal, one-assist line against Riga. It marked the only player game with four steals and five blocks this season, let alone combined with a double-double on points and boards. Oh, and she did all of that in just 23(!) minutes of playing time.
10. Alyssa Thomas (USK Praha) vs. BLMA (Week 8)
Thomas just snatched the trophy for Player of the Month thanks to her great play in February. This game, though, took place in December, and it probably was the best performance by the American import. Thomas’ 18-11-9 line was the closest we got to a triple-double in the 2021-22 EuroLeague. No other player could get within one assist of the feat. (Thomas also had two other near triple-doubles of 8-8-11 and 17-10-8 this season.) Not going to give her props for something she ultimately did not achieve, but the 18-11-9 game came in just 25 minutes. Had she played one or two more minutes, you know what would have happened.
9. Kahleah Copper (Perfumerias Avenida) vs. MBA Moscow (Week 8)
If you read the section on the best games of the year, you already know Copper dumped 34 points on UMMC in December. Well, not happy enough with that, she went for 35(!) points one week later against another Russian team, MBA. This was the largest individual scoring tally of the season, and Copper was even more efficient than in her 34-point explosion, shooting 12-of-18 from the field, 1-for-1 from beyond the arc and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line. She added three rebounds, two assists and four steals, but she was on the court to do what she does best, which is setting nets on fire.
8. Maria Vadeeva (UMMC) vs. Umana Reyer (Week 2)
You can’t have Vadeeva on your MVP ballot because she has played “only” 284 minutes in 13 games for UMMC this season. More than 70 players have logged more minutes than Vadeeva this season as she was used as a super-sub by the Russian team. Yet you absolutely can have Vadeeva on your MVP ballot given her ridiculous off-the-pine season. In one of only three games in which she played 30 or more minutes, she let everybody see the top of her powers: 24 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and a dime against Umana Reyer in the second game of the season. UMMC was so dominant that it didn’t need to play Vadeeva for long periods of time, but she was so efficient on a per-minute basis that seeing her in a full-time role would have been incredible.
7. Brionna Jones (USK Praha) vs. Umana Reyer (Week 7)
Jones and Thomas arrived in time for Week 3 and entirely changed Praha’s outlook for the season, dominating matches week in and week out. You can argue that Jones had a better game in Week 13 (32 points, five rebounds, two assists, four steals), but I’m picking this one against Umana Reyer. Jones’ 27 points and 16 rebounds is something only one other player did this season, and adding a couple of steals to those two other stats reduces the number of similar games to just one. Jones connected on 61% of her 18 field-goal attempts, only committed one turnover, and finished with a sky-high 33 plus/minus in Praha’s victory.
6. Yvonne Anderson (Umana Reyer) vs. MBA Moscow (Week 12)
I can’t lie: I was surprised not to feature reigning EuroLeague MVP Alina Iagupova in this list, considering she can do absolutely everything on a basketball court. Alas, Anderson finished this game with 12 assists, the second-most by a player this season, while Iagupova topped out at 11. It is not that Anderson was only dishing out dimes, though; she also contributed 17 points, seven rebounds and five steals. That was the only 10-5 game in terms of dimes and thefts throughout the entire regular season. Quite a unique game from a unique player who was recently signed by the Connecticut Sun to fight for a WNBA roster spot at age 32. Go get it, young vet!
5. Natasha Howard (Dynamo Kursk) vs. Sopron (Week 12)
Did you read Brionna Jones’ blurb above? Well, Howard was the other player to have a 25-15 game. In fact, Howard did it twice. Ultimately, I favored this game over the other one because of her better all-around production. While Howard was enormous in Week 11 (33 points, 19 rebounds), this Week 12 game against Sopron saw the MVP candidate finish with 26 points, 17 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and one assist. Howard hit all four 3-point shots she attempted, went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe and shot 10-of-19 from the field. Can’t get much better than that.
4. Emma Meesseman (UMMC) vs. MBA Moscow (Week 13)
This game was surely one of the best across-the-board performances of the year, and it took just 25 minutes. Meesseman forgot about any sort of floor-stretching, attempting no 3-point shots against MBA, but she was nearly perfect in all other statistical categories: 20 points, 10 boards, five assists, four steals and one block against just one turnover. Her efficiency was all the way up at 34, and her 28 plus/minus tells you all you need to know about how dominant UMMC was while Meesseman was on the court.
3. Eva Lisec (Dynamo Kursk) vs. Arka Gdynia (Week 1)
As if boasting one of the greatest interior players (Howard) wasn’t enough, Dynamo Kursk paired the WNBA import with Lisec, and the results were sublime. Howard put up a 22-11-5 line with two steals against Gdynia to tip off the season, yet Lisec somehow had an even better game with 30 points, six rebounds, six steals and four dimes. Considering that we’re talking about a 6’4 forward/center with a heavy interior presence, it’s just ridiculous that she shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc while hitting nearly 59% of her field-goal attempts on the afternoon.
2. Jasmine Keys (Famila Schio) vs. Arka Gdynia (Week 11)
Keys is not who you think about when you predict who will make this sort of list. Keys, a 24-year-old born in Vicenza, Italy, only averaged eight points and nearly six rebounds per game for Famila Schio this season. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have it in her. The proof is in the pudding, folks. Keys went on a tear against Arka Gdynia in Week 11, putting up a very serious contender for the best performance of the season. Keys logged season-high marks in all statistical categories except rebounds, finishing the day with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, five steals and four blocks. Nobody else except Jonquel Jones (keep reading) put up at least four rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a game in the regular season. If I’m brutally honest with you, Keys fell to the No. 2 spot only because Jones pulled off the feat in seven fewer minutes—yet it must be said that Keys was more efficient, shooting 80% from the floor and 100% from beyond the arc on just two fewer shot attempts.
1. Jonquel Jones (UMMC) vs. USK Praha (Week 11)
Who else? The reigning WNBA MVP, freshest The Next Best Single Performance Award recipient. Had UMMC not coasted to a 14-0 record and instead played Jones more than her average of 24 minutes per game, we could be looking at one of the best campaigns to ever happen on European soil. It wasn’t meant to be, but that doesn’t mean Jones didn’t have unthinkable games throughout the year. Her magnum opus came in Week 11 against Praha, to the tune of a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in just 28 minutes. Jones added five assists, four steals and four shots to put the cherry on top. She turned the ball over just once while committing two personal fouls, and she shot 66% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 66% from the free-throw line. Her efficiency mark of 38 was only tied by Keys and Conde over the season, and Jones got there in the fewest minutes and against way stronger competition (in a 90-77 win, also). Some things never change.
The next time we meet in the interwebs, we’ll already know the results of the full first leg of the quarterfinals. We’ll also know the results of two of the four games in the second leg, which could decide the series between UMMC/Dynamo Kursk and Praha/Sopron.
Keep an eye on the competition, enjoy the games (freely available on YouTube!), and get up early if needed. You don’t want to miss this!
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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