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EuroLeague Women: Stephanie Mavunga brings dynamic frontcourt play back to Polkowice

Stephanie Mavunga, whose MVP-caliber season was cut short due to an arm injury last winter, is expected to be back on the court for Polish club KGHM BC Polkowice soon. She’ll form one of the more exciting duos in EuroLeague Women with Brittney Sykes.

Valencia Basket V Mks Polkowice - Women´s Trphy Ciutat De Valencia
Stephanie Mavunga, pictured here playing for Polkowice in 2021, is expected to make her EuroLeague Women season debut soon.
Photo By Ivan Terron/Europa Press via Getty Images

One of the top players in last season’s EuroLeague Women competition, forward Stephanie Mavunga, is expected to make her return for Polish club KGHM BC Polkowice in Week 5 of 2023-24 group play.

Mavunga, who was considered to be an MVP candidate before her season ended prematurely due to an arm injury, has been one of EuroLeague Women’s most productive players. Last season, she posted averages of 15.5 points and a competition-leading 12.5 rebounds per game to go along with 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocked shots, earning Player of the Month honors in December. Polkowice wasn’t the same after Mavunga got injured and narrowly missed the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to French club Tango Bourges Basket that could have easily gone the other way had the star forward been healthy.

This is, obviously, a big deal for Polkowice, and while Mavunga shouldn’t be expected to return to her previous form right away, she and Brittney Sykes will form an explosive duo that will raise the club’s ceiling significantly. Sykes has played well since signing with Polkowice, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, but the club has been only mediocre offensively, scoring 70.5 points per game (seventh out of eight teams in Group B). Mavunga certainly will add a new dimension of frontcourt scoring, even if she needs to be brought along slowly.

Meanwhile, Hungarian club DVTK HUN-Therm will shoot for its fifth-straight win to open group play. While not as stacked with talent as some of the other clubs in the competition—its most recognizable name to casual fans is probably guard Kaila Charles—DVTK has been winning regardless, improving upon its first-ever EuroLeague Women appearance last season to become one of the competition’s top clubs. Last week, DVTK held Polski Cukier AZS UMCS Lublin to just 44 points, bringing its points allowed average to a league-best 54.8, and center Ana Tadic earned Player of the Week honors after scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field.

What kind of an impact will Mavunga make in her return to EuroLeague Women? Can DVTK keep pace with Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding as the competition’s only remaining undefeated clubs? And who will come out on top in Wednesday’s lone game—a showdown between Çukurova Basketbol Mersin and Virtus Segafredo Bologna? All of these questions will be answered in Week 5 of EuroLeague Women group play. Each game can be streamed live and for free on FIBA’s EuroLeague Women YouTube channel.

Tuesday, October 31

DVTK HUN-Therm (4-0) vs. ACS Sepsi-SIC (0-4)

When: 1 p.m. ET

Where: Sepsi Arena in Sfântu Gheorghe, Romania

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Kaila Charles, Darcee Garbin (DVTK HUN-Therm); Bethy Mununga, Borislava Hristova, Morgan Green, Ellen Nystrom (ACS Sepsi-SIC)

Matchup details: Sepsi-SIC has been held under 60 points in three of its first four games, and its poor cumulative assist-to-turnover ratio (13.2 assists per game against 19 turnovers) remains a major factor. That’s simply not going to get it done against a club as stout on the defensive end as DVTK. While scorers like Hristova (15 points per game) and Green (13 points per game) have mostly held up their end of the bargain, the club’s roster as a whole is shooting 38.3 percent from the field, a number it will have a hard time exceeding against DVTK’s big frontcourt. This will, in all likelihood, be a low-scoring affair, and a good opportunity for DVTK to improve to 5-0.

SERCO UNI Győr (1-3) vs. KGHM BC Polkowice (2-2)

When: 2 p.m. ET

Where: City Sports Hall in Polkowice, Poland

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Diamond Miller, Kristine Anigwe, Cyesha Goree, Destiny Slocum (SERCO UNI Győr); Brittney Sykes, Stephanie Mavunga, Charli Collier, Brianna Fraser (KGHM BC Polkowice)

Matchup details: Győr will be without Miller for at least a few more weeks as she recovers from a knee injury, but the Hungarian club seemed unaffected by her absence last week, picking up its first win of the season against Landes behind Slocum (26 points). All eyes will be on Mavunga’s return for Polkowice, but she’ll draw a difficult individual matchup in Anigwe, who is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. Győr has played better than its record might indicate, so even though Polkowice has the bigger names, this will by no means be an easy matchup. It may be a high-scoring one; Győr is currently allowing 81.8 points per game, the most of any EuroLeague Women club.

Villeneuve d’Ascq LM (2-2) vs. ZVVZ USK Praha (3-1)

When: 2 p.m. ET

Where: Královka Arena in Prague, Czech Republic

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Kennedy Burke, Kamiah Smalls, Shavonte Zellous, Maia Hirsch (Villeneuve d’Ascq LM); Ezi Magbegor, Nyara Sabally, Maite Cazorla, Maria Conde, Valériane Vukosavljević (ZVVZ USK Praha)

Matchup details: Villeneuve d’Ascq was able to right the ship last week by beating previously-undefeated Bologna, and they didn’t even need their usual big scoring game from Burke (12 points and 11 rebounds) to do it. This is a good sign for the French club, but this week’s game against Praha likely will be even tougher. Praha has a significant edge over Villeneuve d’Ascq in rebounding (39.8 rebounds per game to 34 per game) thanks in large part to Magbegor, who has been one of the competition’s most productive players to this point: 19 points, 11 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Kariata Diaby has been spectacular up front for Villeneuve d’Ascq LM, averaging 13.3 points per game on 66.7 percent shooting from the field. But the club’s guards may need to carry the scoring load against Praha if they’re going to pull off the upset.

Perfumerias Avenida (2-2) vs. Basket Landes (0-4)

When: 2:30 p.m. ET

Where: Espace François-Mitterrand in Mont-de-Marsan, France

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Bria Hartley, Sika Koné, Alexis Prince, Silvia Dominguez (Perfumerias Avenida); Alexis Peterson, Sam Fuehring, Luisa Geiselsöder (Basket Landes)

Matchup details: Landes will welcome Peterson back into the lineup after she missed last week’s game due to personal reasons. The French club could really use her offense (16.7 points and 4.3 assists per game), though its defense has been even worse during the 0-4 start, allowing 81 points per game. It’s an opportunity for Avenida to get back into the win column and boost up its own offense, having scored just 53 points last week against Praha despite a solid performance from Koné (16 points and nine rebounds).

Valencia Basket Club (3-1) vs. Casademont Zaragoza (2-2)

When: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Pabellón Príncipe Felipe in Zaragoza, Spain

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Rebecca Allen, Marie Gülich, Alba Torrens, Leticia Romero, Clauda Contell (Valencia Basket Club); Tanaya Atkinson, Leonie Fiebich, Aleksa Gulbe (Casademont Zaragoza)

Matchup details: Valencia has reeled off three-straight wins by a total of 39 points despite hitting the 70-point mark in only one of them. So it’s safe to say that its team defense has been clicking to open the season. Zaragoza, meanwhile, has one of the competition’s top young players in Fiebich (12 points and 8.5 rebounds per game). This will be a nice test for her, especially going up against the length of players like Allen, Gülich and Torrens. Valencia is definitely the more polished of the two Spanish clubs at this point, but this cross-country rivalry still makes for an intriguing matchup.

LDLC ASVEL Féminin (0-4) vs. Beretta Famila Schio (2-2)

When: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Palazzetto Livio Romare in Schio, Italy

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Julie Allemand, Sandrine Gruda, Marine Fauthoux (LDLC ASVEL Féminin); Dorka Juhász, Arella Guirantes, Robyn Parks, Jasmine Keys (Beretta Famila Schio)

Matchup details: Schio proved to be not quite ready for prime time last week, dropping its matchup against Fenerbahçe by 26 points. There’s a good chance for the Italian club to redeem itself this week as ASVEL continues to struggle. While the absences of Gabby Williams and Marine Johannès are definitely factors, it’s not enough of a reason for a winless record at this juncture. Time is already running out for ASVEL to make a playoff push; the French club will need to start winning now. Getting offense from a player besides Fauthoux (16 points and 2.5 3-pointers made per game) will go a long way in doing so.

Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding (4-0) vs. Polski Cukier AZS UMCS Lublin (1-3)

When: 3 p.m. ET

Where: Hala Mosir in Lublin, Poland

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Natasha Howard, Kayla McBride, Emma Meesseman, Yvonne Anderson, Kitija Laksa, Nikolina Milic (Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding); Shyla Heal, Channon Fluker, Elin Gustavsson (Polski Cukier AZS UMCS Lublin)

Matchup details: For a brief moment, Lublin looked like it may have adjusted to life in EuroLeague Women. But the Polish club, which mustered just 44 points last week in a loss to DVTK, now faces a Fenerbahçe team that is averaging by far the most points in the competition (91.5). Needless to say, Lublin will need to make some shots—as a team, Lublin is shooting 35.8 percent from the field and 22.1 percent on 3-pointers—to hang with Fenerbahçe, especially if the reigning champs’ frontcourt has it going like they did last week, when Meesseman and Howard combined to score 45 points on 20-for-26 shooting.

Wednesday, November 1

Çukurova Basketbol Mersin (3-1) vs. Virtus Segafredo Bologna (3-1)

When: 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: PalaDozza in Bologna, Italy

How to watch: FIBA YouTube live stream

Notable players: Alina Iagupova, Marina Mabrey, Elizabeth Williams (Çukurova Basketbol Mersin); Lauren Cox, Iliana Rupert, Cecilia Zandalasini, Ivana Dojkić, Haley Peters (Virtus Segafredo Bologna)

Matchup details: It’s fitting that this is the lone EuroLeague Women game being played on Wednesday. On paper, it’s a matchup between two evenly-matched teams. Beyond the identical 3-1 records, Mersin and Bologna have been almost equally productive on the boards (36 rebounds per game for Mersin and 37 rebounds per game for Bologna) and passing the ball (22.3 assists per game for Mersin and 21.5 assists per game for Bologna). Mersin’s games have been typically lower-scoring (75.5 points scored and 68.5 points allowed per game) than Bologna’s (79 points scored and 74 points allowed per game), so we’ll see which club’s philosophy wins out.