The last four teams standing descend on Istanbul’s Ulker Sports Arena for the Final Four with games on Friday and Sunday. There are plenty of stories to follow as another European Champion will be crowned.
ZVVZ USK Praha vs. UMMC Ekaterinburg:
These two teams are familiar foes after facing off in last year’s final and then in the SuperCup final, both won by USK Praha in surprising fashion. The two teams also faced off in the regular season with UMMC Ekaterinburg winning both times to dispel any notions that they could not win.
The defending champions have kept key parts of their roster intact for their title defense. Sonja Petrovic has been the key player again, but Kia Vaughn has increased her role from a year ago. The team’s success last season was fueled by the ability of their guards to dictate tempo. Laia Palau will be pulling the strings and keeping the offense humming again while Marta Xargay will offer a change of pace. The team also added a late addition to the roster in the form of Anete Steinberga, who has seemed to integrate herself into the roster quickly. Katerina Elhotova has also provided additional floor spacing capabilities all season long. Compared to other teams, the level of competition that they have faced since the quarterfinals has been weaker, which makes it difficult to tell exactly how well they are playing even with the overwhelming scorelines. Unlike last year, this team will not be sneaking up on anyone, but the confidence and experience from their performances in the past should help them give a good account of themselves.
UMMC Ekaterinburg enters as the favorites again with the strongest roster, but they will be mindful of their inability to win either of the last two titles with similar levels of talent. Diana Taurasi has treated the entire season as a woman on a mission and she is well rested for these key games. Emma Meesseman was added to the roster late and she has immediately come in and strengthened an already formidable frontcourt alongside Brittney Griner and Sancho Lyttle. The team will also be looking for Alba Torrens to provide an extra spark of creativity. While Taurasi may carry the team to the title herself, there is room for another player to step up besides their usual key contributors. The veteran presence of Deanna Nolan or some fire from a domestic player could help them return to their ultimate goal. Kristi Toliver has been playing a more complementary role for most of the season, but this could be her chance to step to the front.
Fenerbahce vs. Nadezhda:
The hosts will look forward to a rowdy home crowd to spur them on in a quest for the title. They enter with the best record over the course of the competition, not even taking their foot off the gas pedal after clinching the top spot in their group. All season long, they have relied on the trio of Allie Quigley, Jantel Lavender, and Marissa Coleman for scoring. Anastasia Verameyenka and Quanitra Hollingsworth have been unsung heroes for the team, but timely contributions from the role players, especially more shooting could be the key in a critical situation. Kamile Nacickaite has not fully found her rhythm after the team smartly picked her up midseason, but a good performance from her or one of the three key local players, Birsel Vardarli, Olcay Cakir, or Tugce Canitez could shift the tide.
Nadezhda, on the other hand, is flying well under the radar compared to the other three teams. Their consistent performances landed them home court advantage in the quarterfinals and they completed the sweep to make it here. In contrast to other teams, Nadezhda has kept a consistent roster and the players have complemented one another nicely. DeWanna Bonner is the leader, but the other three players have stepped into bigger roles when necessary. With Anna Cruz providing creativity, Kayla McBride adding scoring punch, and Angel Robinson protecting the paint alongside Bonner’s versatility, the team will need one of its Russian players to also contribute to maximize their chances against two difficult opponents.
Semifinals: USK Praha 68 UMMC Ekaterinburg 64
Fenerbahce 74 Nadezhda 65
Third Place: UMMC Ekaterinburg 85 Nadezhda 66
Final: Fenerbahce 73 USK Praha 70
MVP: Allie Quigley
Semifinals: UMMC Ekaterinburg 65 USK Praha 54
Fenerbahce 70 Nadezhda 64
Nadezhda 73 USK Praha 62
UMMC Ekaterinburg 79 Fenerbahce 74
MVP: Diana Taurasi