January 15, 2022 

UMMC reigns amid EuroLeague chaos

Five games got postponed and only three took place in EuroLeague Week 11. Everything is a mess—except, of course, UMMC's winning ways

If you remember or just read this column weekly, you already know that the EuroLeague had to cancel a game from Week 10, CB Avenida versus Umana Reyer, because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the former’s clubhouse.

Schedule imbalances are always bad, of course, but within just a few days, the EuroLeague organizers rescheduled that match for Jan. 15, theoretically allowing everybody to enter Week 12 with 11 games played. But, of course, this season is taking place in the 2021 and 2022 calendar years, and the last few days have seen an incredible rash of cancellations.

Everything started back on Jan. 6, when the official EuroLeague site announced the postponement of the Week 11 game between Basket Landes and Galatasaray. One game down, seven to go.

Then, within five days, EuroLeague proceeded to cancel a bunch of other Week 11 games: Famila Schio vs. Arka Gdynia, Spar Girona vs. Dynamo Kursk, BLMA vs. Avenida and most recently Sopron vs. Fenerbahçe. That meant 10 teams were canned from the Week 11 slate, leaving only six teams to play three games this week.

Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams shoots during a WNBA game against the Connecticut Sun on Sept. 19, 2021. (Photo credit: Chris Poss)

The best news is that at least some games could go on. The worst news is that we are now looking at a couple of regular-season standings in which everything is a real mess. These developments have left Group B with all eight teams having played 10 games but Group A featuring five squads with 11 games played, two with 10 and then Avenida with just nine completed matches.

While it looks like the ongoing wave of omicron-variant COVID-19 cases could subside soon enough, that doesn’t remove the chance of more games getting postponed. Making things more complicated, Avenida and Umana Reyer are scheduled to play their rescheduled game from Week 10 today. But Avenida has had more games (in both the EuroLeague and Spanish League) canceled of late because of COVID, which begs a simple question: How viable and safe is it for the Spanish and Italian sides to face each other today?

That’s the problem with postponing games, with schedules in which tournaments and organizers keep bulldozing their way ahead, and with imbalanced standings showing up in tables. The EuroLeague, whether we like it or not, should start thinking about the potential of an uncompleted regular season, whether teams would be ranked based on their total points (two per win, one per loss) or a manufactured average, how tiebreakers would be decided, etc.

I don’t think I’m alone in despising all of those potential calculations, but given how the season is developing and the very real chance of it not getting completed, we better start assuming that there will be weird stuff coming our way. Fasten your seatbelts and keep calm, because we’re in for an unpredictable ending.

UMMC’s steadiness is the only thing still stable

All of the above is kind of depressing, no matter how you look at it. Do you know what else is depressing? UMMC’s inevitability, from the perspective of their opponents. That’s what.

UMMC was one of the six teams able to play this week. The matchup, truth be told, couldn’t have been spicier, with Ekaterinburg facing scorching-hot USK Praha and its six-game winning streak. In fact, the last time Praha lost a EuroLeague match, it was against UMMC, by only two points. We were already rubbing our hands in anticipation of the battles on tape: Brionna Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Dragana Stankovic facing the trio of Jonquel Jones, Maria Vadeeva and Emma Meesseman. Just imagine!

Imagine, indeed. The Czech side didn’t have Thomas available last Wednesday (no word on why, not even in the team’s game report), and adding fuel to the fire, UMMC got to deploy Courtney Vandersloot for the first time this season while also playing Brittney Griner 25 minutes in just her fourth overseas game. In other words: a no-contest win for the Russian side.

UMMC was good for 90 points while limiting Praha to only 77 points on the day. For context, Praha had scored at least 80 points in all of its games after the first meeting against Ekaterinburg back in Week 4, and the Czech squad had also not allowed more than 61 points since then. But it was, simply put, demolished by a UMMC team that is now sitting on top of the world with a perfect 11-0 record and seriously looking to close the season without a loss.

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)

One of the main reasons Ekaterinburg got the win on Wednesday was the ridiculous exploits of Jonquel Jones. Jones, in her ninth game of EuroLeague ball this season, put up a nonsensical efficiency mark of 38 (tied for the league’s season high with Maria Conde‘s figure from Week 10) in just 28 minutes with a 20-point, 11-rebound, five-assist, four-steal, four-block outing. Nobody else has been close to a 10-10-4-4-4 line this year, with Stankovic (13-10-1-4-5 in Week 6) and Tina Krajisnik (22-9-4-5-2 in Week 10) the closest approximations.

Jones is building a very strong case to win the MVP award when all is said and done. She already got the WNBA MVP trophy a few months back, and she has kept racking up mesmerizing performances such as this one and her 44-point, 22-rebound game for Bosnia in early November.

In other news, UMMC import and WNBA champion Vandersloot finally had her overseas debut, and oh my, was it fantastic. The Chicago Sky point guard put up a nice 10 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals. As if Ekaterinburg needed any more help.

TTT Riga jumps into top four, KSC Szekszard loses 11th straight

On a very different level of play and aspirations, Riga snatched a win from Umana Reyer’s hands while MBA Moscow fulfilled expectations and defeated a still-winless KSC Szekszard by nine points.

It’s now a mess of a top five in Group A because of the imbalance of schedules and games played. After UMMC (11-0 for 22 points) and USK Praha (8-3 for 19), there is a very tight trio of teams in the No. 3 through No. 5 spots: Avenida (7-2, 16), Riga (5-6, 16) and BLMA (5-5, 15).

Accounting for the point awarded for each loss and assuming a worst-case scenario for Avenida and BLMA, they would have 18 and 16 points by the time they catch up with the rest of Group A and play 11 games. That means BLMA would jump ahead of Riga based on their Week 5 result, but those two have another (second-leg) matchup next week, if there are no more postponements.

Chicago Sky center Astou Ndour-Fall (45) shoots as Connecticut Sun forward Brionna Jones (42) defends during a WNBA semifinals game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on Sept. 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Chris Poss)

If all of this is headache-inducing to you, don’t feel like you’re missing out. I’ve already gone through those pains trying to figure this out, and it didn’t get any better, so you’re not alone.

Anyway, moving on to celebrating the rest of the games that were played this week, Riga took advantage of an extraordinary 29-efficiency game by Jasmine Thomas (not the WNBA player, mind you), whose 18-point, seven-rebound, six-assist, six-steal, one-block line helped her finish tied for the second-best efficiency this week. Dana Evans (12 points, six rebounds) and Astou Ndour (11 rebounds, seven points, three blocks) each finished with an efficiency of 11, but neither did enough to beat Riga’s production.

With Nikolina Milic (KSC) unable to play this week, MBA’s Zhosselina Maiga was the only player in this match with an average efficiency above 14 this season. Zala Friskovec (18 points, five rebounds; 19 efficiency) led the KSC squad on Wednesday, but the pair of Anastasia Logunova (22 efficiency) and Zhosseline Maiga (15) were too much for KSC to overcome in its 11th loss this season.

Here’s hoping KSC can get at least one win this season. Let’s also hope the remaining three weeks of play (almost four, if we account for the games postponed this past week) can go ahead without much trouble and we can enter the postseason in the cleanest possible way.

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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