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OLY - Five Golden Girls of 2011

LONDON (Olympics) – Last week we ran a story highlighting the top performers – and performances – from the five men’s continental championships, coming up with an unofficial FIBA All-Star world Five. This week, following the completion of the last two events – the FIBA Americas Championship for Women and the FIBA Africa Championship for Women – we look at the best from the ladies’ tournaments, which also saw some outstanding performers.

EuroBasket Women, which began mid-June, was the first of the summer’s 10 continentals to be played. Russia booked the only automatic Olympic places as they overcame Turkey in the final. Leading the way was guard Elena Danilochkina, whose average of 13.9 points per game only tell part of the story. Indeed it was her shooting accuracy, which included an astonishing 18 of 33 (54.5%) from three-point range, that made her the jewel of the Russian team. Last week we praised Juan Carlos Navarro for his impressive long-range shooting, so 25-year-old Danilochkina whose field goal shooting percentages are higher still, more than deserves a mention.

The next zone to host its top female basketball teams for a chance of continental glory and an Olympic place was Asia, where Miao Lijie was named MVP following China’s gold medal game victory over Korea. In view of the enthusiasm and energy displayed on court, it is difficult to believe that 30-year-old Miao has been playing for the Chinese national team for thirteen years. Her exuberance and talent are now backed by a mountain of experience; experience her team benefitted from on top of the 13 points she scored per game and the 20 she clocked up in the final.

With no series MVP title handed out to the best of the FIBA Oceania Championship, we have the luxury of being able to pick our own most valuable player from the three game series between Australia and New Zealand. With the Opals – as the Australian women’s team is known – having made a clean sweep, it would be a straight pick between their two most influencial players Suzy Batkovic and Abby Bishop. With 53 points and 24 rebounds to Bishop’s 50 pts and 23 rbds, Batkovic is marginally ahead stats-wise. But Bishop seems to have matured enormously since playing in the FIBA World Championship for Women one year ago, where she and the whole of the Australian team struggled. Still only 22, Bishop will be around for plenty of years to come and will definitely be one to look out for come the Olympics.

Making up for Bishop’s relative inexperience in our All-Star Five is FIBA Americas MVP, Brazilil's Erika de Souza, who has already played in four FIBA World Championships and who will be returning to the Olympics for the second time in London next year. De Souza is a key player for her national team and puts playing for her country ahead of everything else. So much so that she left her WNBA team mid-playoffs to successfully help Brazil qualify for London. De Souza’s 16.2 points and eight rebounds per game topped both stats categories and proved instrumental in carrying Brazil to gold. At the top of her game, de Souza will be critical if Brazil are to capture their first Olympic medal in over a decade.

Completing our MVP/All-Star Five line-up is Nassecela Mauricio, who helped Angola win their first ever FIBA Africa Championship for Women as they overcame 11-time winners and pre-tournament favourites Senegal. With a strong all round game, Angola’s 31-year-old captain yet helped her team covering every millimetre of the court. Her display in the final was typical of her whole tournament: 12 points showcasing her wide range of shooting skills, five rebounds that saw the 1.81m power forward dominate the Senegalese centres while also her three assists proved that her incredible versatility.

And yes, like last week’s piece there are no USA players here. But the absence of the World Champions is yet another reason to look forward to seeing Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and co in action at the London Olympic Basketball Tournament.