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EuroLeague Women Qualifiers: Three observations after the first leg of qualifying games

The three Wednesday EuroLeague Women Qualifiers were more than just an appetizer before the start of the most prestigious women’s basketball competition in Europe.

Bethy Mununga, pictured here celebrating the Belgian National Team’s 2023 EuroBasket victory, was one of the stars of Wednesday’s action
Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Six teams are vying for three spots in the 2023-24 EuroLeague Women season:

  • TTT Riga (Latvia)
  • MKS Polkowice (Poland)
  • DVTK Hun-Therm (Hungary)
  • ACS Sepsi (Romania)
  • London Lions (Great Britain)
  • Besiktas JK (Turkey)

On Wednesday, Sep. 20, Qualifiers began, with the second leg scheduled for the following week on Sep. 27.

To be among the top 16 women’s basketball franchises who annually square off for the title of the best on the continent, teams must survive the two-leg qualifying system. The six teams are divided into three pairings of two, with each pairing competing in a home-and-home series to determine the team that will join the EuroLeague. If the teams split their pair of games, the team that scores the most combined points progresses. The three teams that do not prevail will compete in the EuroCup Women season.

Here’s what happened during the first day of qualifying action:

Megan Gustafson continues to improve

DVTK HUN-Them 63, London Lions 48

Megan Gustafson, center/power forward for the Phoenix Mercury, left the United States a week ago after the best season of her professional career and moved across the Atlantic to her new team, the London Lions. The English team has been devouring competition in their home country for the last two seasons, losing just one regular season game during that period.

Outside of England though, things have not been so good, as proven by their loss to the Hungarian League runner up by 15 points. The home loss significantly limited the English champions’ chances of progressing, even though there were some bright spots, which give the Lions some optimism for the future.

The brightest was the performance off the bench by Gustafson, who, after just one week, stepped in and delivered with 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Just imagine how great she’ll perform after she gets to know her teammates and the plays.

Bethy Mununga is a rebounding machine

ACS Sepsi SIC 59, TTT Riga 54

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sepsi-SIC’s Bethy Mununga played for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for two years, where she averaged 17 points and 13 rebounds, and then transferred to the University of South Florida, where her averages for three years were 9.9 points and 11.3 rebounds.

At 26 years old, she still is waiting to be picked up by a WNBA team, which is disappointing considering her knack for catching the ball whenever it bounces off the backboard or falls off the rim. After being a part of the European Championship-winning Belgian National Team, Mununga put some people on notice.

And more will follow if she continues to perform for the Romanian champions like she did on Wednesday. In the game against TTT Riga, she had seven points and 15 rebounds to finish the game an impressive plus-16. On the other side of the court, the power forward’s performance was rivaled by Baylor University alum Dekeiya Cohen, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds and a plus-minus of 14. And with a five-point margin between the two teams, the rematch will be tough, with the result likely decided by defense and second-chance points.

On the biggest of stages, experience is key

BC Polkowice 57, Besiktas 58

Although BC Polkowice may have finished last season in second place in Poland while Besiktas was third in Turkey, both teams delivered a first-class performance, a true nail-biter fitting for the beautiful arena in Istanbul. The star of the show was 28-year-old Serbian center Dragana Stankovic, a last-minute pickup from Hungarian powerhouse Sopron Basket who is making her return to Poland after two years.

The 30th overall pick of the 2015 WNBA Draft and Slovenian point guard, 31-year-old Nika Baric provided veteran play that allowed the Polish team to keep the lead after Besiktas started to make a late comeback. Baric had a great all-around performance with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.

The key for Polkowice to win at home will be to contain Besiktas’ power forward Elif Bayram, who at 22 years old is in store for a breakout year. Already a part of the national team as a bench player, she proved on Wednesday that she is worthy of a starting role, with eight points and 12 rebounds. Bayram can cut to the basket and play off the ball like a much older, experienced player. She has the instincts to be great; the more she plays, the better she will get.