Prior to the last gameday of the group stage of EuroLeague Women, three quarter-final spots remained to be distributed between six equally-worthy and success-hungry teams. During any other gameday, their games wouldn’t take center stage, as the two best teams in both groups were playing against each other. Both games ended with the favorites winning by over 20 points, as Fenerbahçe triumphed over DVTK in Group A and Praha beat Mersin in Group B. So, maybe it’s for the better that the focus was on the other, consequential contests, right? Well... not quite, as the determinative Group A games were blowouts and the closest margin of victory in Group B’s key contests was eight points.
In the end, Zaragoza, Villenueve-d’Ascq and Avenida earned the final three spots in the quarter-finals, joining Fenerbahçe, DVTK, Praha, Mersin and Schio.
Zaragoza supposedly had it easy on the last day of group competition since they were playing against Group A’s bottom feeder, Lublin. The Polish champs are struggling domestically and internationally, while Zaragoza needed a win to clinch the last quarter-finals spot. Valencia not only had to win against Beretta Famila Schio, but also hope for Lublin to upset their local rivals. Both games began at the same time, both took place in Spain and both featured teams that weren’t particularly motivated, as Schio were already certain of making it to the next round while Lublin had no chance of moving up in the table.
Valencia did their part and opened up the game strong, winning the first quarter 26-13. The problem was that Zaragoza won the first quarter 25-6 after opening the game 13-0. And it wasn’t like Lublin wasn’t trying; they scored 20 points in the second quarter. But when you make just one-fourth of your shots, you have no chance to win, especially against such a strong opponent as Zaragoza. Bria Goss was the only Lublin player who scored in double digits and the only one who shot better than 38 percent from the floor. Thirteen of those 20 points came in the second quarter, in which she was perfect—she made four shots and four free throws. Apart from those 10 minutes, which actually ended in a tie, the difference between the teams was just too vast and the 47-point final differential, 96-49, is proof of that.
Despite their chances of making it out of Group A getting slimmer and slimmer with each minute, Valencia kept pushing until the final quarter. When the lead was secure, it was time to give some playing time to bench players, granting them a taste of the EuroLeague experience. Valencia still ended the game up by 27 points, winning 87-60. Their reserve center, Stanford-product Nadia Fingall, finished the game with 22 points scored in just 15 minutes of action. She did not see a lot of playing time in the second quarter, as there was no point—the lead was secure and the chances of progressing close to none. Despite four consecutive wins to close out group play, Valencia’s late push for the quarter-finals unfortunately ends without success. As for Schio, their loss cost them third place in Group A and pits them against Praha in the quarter-finals, a much tougher opponent than the second-place team from Group B in Mersin.
Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding 95, DVTK HUN-Therm 71
Valencia Basket Club 87, Beretta Famila Schio 60
Casademont Zaragoza 96, Polski Cukier AZS UMCS Lublin 49
LDLC ASVEL Feminin 94, ACS Sepsi-SIC 77
The most exciting game of the last gameday was between Villenueve-d’Ascq and Polkowice, as both teams needed a win in order to progress and both played hard, which resulted in spectacular plays and jittery mistakes. The first half was close and the home team was up six points over the Poles. But after halftime, it seemed only one team came out to play. The moment when the game was essentially over came with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter, when Janelle Salaün hit a corner 3 while being fouled by Zala Friškovec. The shot and the follow-up free throw capped off a 10-0 opening to the second half for French squad. Polkowice eventually woke up, but the damage was too severe to overcome, falling 85-72. Credit goes to Shavonte Zellous, who was 5-for-11 from 3 for Villenueve-d’Ascq. No stranger to big moments, the 2012 WNBA champion provided veteran leadership when her team needed it the most. In all statistical categories, both teams were close—except 3-point shots made. Villenueve-d’Ascq made 10 more 3s than Polkowice, and that was what made the difference in the end.
The last quarter-final spot was won by Perfumerias Avenida after another stellar performance by Laura Gil. The Spanish power forward was not as dominant as the week before, when she was voted the best player of Gameday 13, but her 20 points and seven rebounds got the job done against Serco UNI Győr, with her team winning 56-42. Avenida entered the game as favorites, with Győr not having anything to play for other than making a nice final impression. While that didn’t prevent them from dropping 91 points on Polkowice two weeks ago, Avenida neutralized their offense, limiting them to just three makes out of 23 3-point attempts. The old basketball adage is, “Defense wins championships,” and while Avenida may be a long shot for the title, they made it to the quarter-finals overs teams that had more firepower than them. They may not play the most entertaining brand of basketball, but it works. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
ZVVZ USK Praha 77, Çukurova Basketbol Mersin 56
Perfumerias Avenida 56, Serco UNI Győr 42
Virtus Segafredo Bologna 74, Basket Landes 66
Villeneuve-d’Ascq LM 85, KGHM BC Polkowice 72
After 112 group games the quarter-final pairs are finally set. Now we get some time off until Feb. 21, when the teams will face each other for the first time. The team that finished higher in their group will have the home-court advantage in a series of three contests. After Feb. 21, circle Feb. 28 and Mar. 6 on your calendars.
Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding (Group A No. 1) vs. Perfumerias Avenida (Group B No. 4)
DVTK HUN-Therm (Group A No. 2) vs. Villeneuve-d’Ascq LM (Group B No. 3)
ZVVZ USK Praha (Group B No. 1) vs. Beretta Famila Schio (Group A No. 4)
Çukurova Basketbol Mersin (Group B No. 2) vs. Casademont Zaragoza (Group A No. 3)