Focus on Final Four: UMMC Ekaterinburg
EKATERINBURG (EuroLeague Women) – We're taking a look at the clubs who are getting ready to step out at EuroLeague Women Final Four and we're finishing with local favorites UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The History: UMMC Ekaterinburg are chasing a fourth EuroLeague Women title which has special significance as it would draw them level with their historic Russian rivals Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje. They won their first back in 2003 and after a string of high-profile failures at The Final Four, they won it again a decade later in front of their own fans. Perhaps surprisingly, they missed out as underdogs Galatasaray and ZVVZ USK Prague won it in 2014 and 2015. But, UMMC found themselves back on top of the podium last year and will be red-hot favorites to successfully defend their crown this time around. They will also make history in the modern era by becoming the first team to make an eleventh appearance at the Final Four, having previously been tied with Bourges Basket. This is their tenth straight appearance as well.The Game: UMMC will face Fenerbahce in the Semi-Finals of The Final Four and notably the last time they played a Turkish team at this stage – they lost. That was on their home floor as well.
The Latest: UMMC look to be on a collision course domestically with Dynamo Kursk who are challenging their supremacy in the Russian Premier League. Once the Final Four has been concluded, both clubs will engage in what could be an epic Russian Finals series. UMMC were edged out by their new rivals as Regular Season winners and will get the chance for revenge.
Danger Sources: Widely acknowledged as having the deepest roster in the competition, the champions have quality and class in all positions. In veteran Diana Taurasi, the most successful player in EuroLeague Women history and someone many rank as the best-ever in the women's game. Her fellow USA national team star Brittney Griner brings incredible size under the basket and an occasional dunk too.
She can be a nightmare match-up for her opponents and if she plays to her potential, UMMC will be hard to stop. Spanish national team leader Alba Torrens normally revels in big occasions, whether running the floor like few other wing players can – or hitting those momentum-shifting shots. The juggernauts can also boast two high-level playmakers in Kristi Toliver and Nika Baric – with Taurasi also able to play there too. Throw in three-point assassin Evgenia Belyakova, a former EuroBasket Women MVP in Sancho Lyttle and brilliant Belgian Emma Meesseman and you can see why they are expected to shine at DIVS Arena.
The Coach: Olaf Lange is hurtling towards his third EuroLeague Women title, having won the competition for the first time in 2013 and then again last year in Istanbul. As well as the highs, he has also had to deal with the disappointments too, not least losing to Prague in the title game in 2015 and perhaps even more of a surprise was losing at home to Galatasaray in 2014. Known for his meticulous preparation and ability to successfully rotate his stellar roster, he is also supported by his wife Sandy Brondello, who is an Assistant Coach.
The Key Stat: UMMC are leading several categories including most points and most assists per game. But, the key stat is surely that they are way out in front when it comes to their downtown shooting of 42.5%.
The Key Questions: Can UMMC continue to find that hot-hand from long-range to make them a nightmare to guard inside and out? Will Taurasi once again prove the difference-maker and hit clutch-shots to keep the silverware in the city? Can anybody slow down Griner or will the center be able to dominate and act as the anchor in the paint which forms the foundation for success? While all the players are used to big games, an entire season has been built around The Final Four and so will they be able to collectively deal with the expectation that demands another title and absolutely nothing less?