Preview: Groups E and F
MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 Qualifiers) – The rush for tickets to EuroBasket Women 2017 is about to close during this last qualifying window and we check out who is in the box-seat in Groups E and F.
While anything can happen in these last couple of games and Group E could become one of the tightest around, it does look like the form book is pointing to either Slovak Republic or their neighbours Hungary finishing top of the pile as they are both locked together with 3-1 records at present. It means that the very last game next Wednesday in Piestany could be a derby blockbuster to decide who finishes first. The first meeting was a classic as Hungary took a 65-64 win in Pecs as Alexandria Quigley erupted with 27 points and it was a really intense battle.
Slovak Republic have relied heavily on the experience of Anna Jurcenkova who has been excellent under the hoop and is averaging a double-double of 12.8 points and 11 rebounds per game, while Barbora Balintova has been dishing up almost five assists per contest – although she isn’t available which is a blow. At least head coach Maros Kovacik will be able to welcome back Marie Ruzickova who has been out of the picture for many years but has been outstanding at Reyer Venezia. Before Slovak Republic can think about the big clash with Hungary, Coach Kovacik and his side must turn their attention to Iceland on Saturday when they have the chance to avenge a shock loss earlier in the campaign.
Similarly, Hungary have to avoid a slip-up when they entertain Portugal. Interestingly, Tijana Krivacevic has been amassing big numbers for her country with more than 19 points per game but has recently parted ways by mutual consent with EuroLeague Women side Perfumerias Avenida, having been heralded as one of the biggest summer arrivals in Salamanca.
There is also an expected change of naturalised player, with Quigley moving aside for her fellow Chicago Sky team-mate Courtney Vandersloot, who is currently playing for Yakin Dogu Universitesi.
Iceland and Portugal must pull off a major turnaround to throw themselves into contention and so much will rest on whether they can complete the first mission which is to achieve a shock victory this weekend – ahead of them both facing each other in the final Group E game in Reykjavik.
There could be a last day winner-takes-all scenario in Group F as well, with unbeaten Russia hot favourites at 4-0 – although second-place Greece know they could top the standings with a two-point success in Kursk.
Russia will look to newly-crowned WNBA champion Evgenia Belyakova to lead them to the Final Round and they must firstly overcome struggling Switzerland on Saturday who are yet to record a victory and have suffered four very heavy losses. Russian play-caller Alexander Vasin will continue with youth, but has bolstered his squad with some additional experience and there will certainly be plenty for the locals to cheer with the inclusion of Dynamo Kursk stars such as Maria Vadeeva, Epiphanny Prince and Elena Kirillova.
Greece have to be cautious and not look too far ahead as they have to firstly navigate what could be a tricky clash on Saturday against Bulgaria in Chalkida – especially if they aren’t focused and allow their minds to wander towards Kursk. With experienced performers such as Evanthia Maltsi, Styliani Kaltsidou and Zoi Dimitrakou, that isn’t likely to happen and the Olympiacos trio will continue to be the main drivers for their nation and the most likely source of joy when they go up against Russia – although Spar Citylift Girona forward Artemis Spanou is always a threat as well.