26 September, 2017
22 April, 2018
7 Alba Torrens | Photo: Ludek Sipla
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Will UMMC trip again, or are they a Championship team in waiting?

EKATERINBURG (EuroLeague Women) – It's been a roller-coaster season for UMMC and we put our women's specialist Paul Nilsen on the spot by asking if they will finish on a high or low at the Final Four.

[PN] It's true that Ekaterinburg had their worst start to a Regular Season in recent memory and also lost the services of a EuroLeague Women legend in Diana Taurasi. Not long after this, they also lost their head coach Olaf Lange as well.

Fast forward a couple of months and with Miguel Mendez at the helm, they look like a team transformed. Like a weight has been lifted. I have no idea why this is specifically, but they look quicker to the hustle play, they are running the floor better, they are sharing the ball well and the body language looks great.

While everyone might point at the arrival of Maya Moore as the main reason for UMMC suddenly shifting up the gears, it isn't just the class of the former WNBA MVP and EuroLeague Women champion that has made the difference.

For me, this team is all about a different kind of heartbeat - namely, Alba Torrens.

I don't think the wing star has ever truly looked happy at UMMC – or perhaps more accurately, playing under her former coach. I could be completely wrong of course. But from an outsider looking in, she has looked nothing like the smiling sensation she always is when wearing Spanish colors - having rode her way to FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 MVP.

When Taurasi left, it looked like Torrens relished picking up the slack. When Moore was announced, I went on record as expressing some concern about how this would impact on her. However, credit to Torrens, Moore and Coach Mendez. It looks like it could be quite a potent 1-2 punch and that both players have ended up with some exciting synergy.

So, how ironic would it be if Torrens got one over on her national team boss Lucas Mondelo? She won the EuroLeague Women title with her compatriot back in 2011. That irony would be increased further if she combined effectively with Moore, a player who attained historic silverware alongside Mondelo in China.

When you throw in the size of Brittney Griner, the unflappable Emma Meesseman, the shooting of Evgenia Belyakova and the returning Nika Baric, you have to think UMMC might make a return to the top of the podium.

Those early and mid-season wobbles seem like a lifetime ago to me and with a month to go until the Final Four, I actually think UMMC are looking in the best place to win it.

A lot can change between now and then, but if I was a UMMC fan, I would be quietly confident that two big wins were coming my way! Especially if Torrens is playing with a smile on her face again.

You can follow Paul @basketmedia365