Eight big ups at the Final Four
SOPRON (Hungary) - The Semi-Finals of this year's edition of the Final Four are in the books and we have a great title game to look forward to.
With one gameday over and another to come, we asked our women's specialist Paul Nilsen aka @Basketmedia365 to spend the rest day in between, picking out his eight biggest 'ups' so far at the tournament.
That Griner block
Absolutely brutal. In that split-second moment when Brittney Griner swatted a shot in such emphatic and dominant fashion, I winced and it made you realize fully that there is actually nobody quite like her in this competition and probably in the women's game. She really was awesome for Ekat at both ends of the floor and it is a strong contender to be in the plays of the tournament.
The defense of Dynamo Kursk
Talking about stops, I thought the defense of Dynamo Kursk and strategy laid down after half-time by Lucas Mondelo was impressive. To hold a free-scoring team like Praha to just 67 points was a big effort on the defensive end. Even if Kursk have the better players and roster, it still requires desire and hard work to lock that defense in.
This home Sopron crowd
We already knew that the Sopron crowd was great and when they hit those consecutive triples in the second quarter against UMMC to roar into the lead, I thought the roof was about to be blow off with the noise. But importantly, as their side was about to lose, the crowd were on their feet in appreciation for the team's effort and gave them a standing ovation. That is proper support - when you appreciate the mismatch and suck up the loss, but give recognition to your team for doing all they could.
When the two best teams get to the Final
We love a fairytale in sport and deep down inside, I think it is human reaction to crave the upset. But, in this season's Semi-Finals, now that the fairytale option has been killed off, we have the two pre-season favorites fighting it out for the title. Both 13-1 in the Regular Season, they are in the all-important title game and it is probably rarer than you think, that this happens, in terms of two favorites making it to the last game. Now we have a possible epic in store.
The Vandersloot cameo
A colleague pointed out to me that I had not given enough love and attention to someone who is supposedly one of my favorite players. So, let me put that right now. I think it was a great sign for UMMC that Courtney Vandersloot was so impressive in the Semi-Final with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. She could be a difference-maker against Dynamo Kursk and her classy showing sets it all up nicely - one of her best showings of her first campaign with UMMC.
The Petrovic we all know and love
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I feel so bad keep referring to how Sonja Petrovic had not posted her greatest Regular Season, when it is all relative, because an 'ordinary' Sonja is still miles above most players in the competition. So it did feel really good to see her so impressive with those 20 points for Kursk in the game against Praha. Yes, that is truly the Petrovic we all know and love.
Sopron Basket still on a journey
One of the most interesting comments in the post-game media conferences came from Roberto Iniguez of Sopron. He spoke about his team and the club learning. It hit a note with me because Sopron have come a long distance in a short space of time. One previous Final Four appearance in their entire history, then two more in 12 months. But, UMMC showed them how big the gap is again and Iniguez is absolutely correct, all Sopron can do is to learn and try their best to keep improving.
Stewie - but not just for the 32
While everyone was left impressed with her dazzling Final Four debut and those 32 points against Praha, Breanna Stewart continues to be a class act off the court. Fans probably don't get to fully appreciate the uber-professionalism and friendliness of Stewart, who despite being a global women's basketball icon, clearly has her feet planted on the ground. The way she interacts with Coach Mondelo is intriguing as well. Both seem relaxed in a pressurized situation. A total role model and it's great to have her in EuroLeague Women - at last.
Debutantes get a taste for the Final Four
We have a huge list of players who have now had a taste of the Final Four experience having debuted in this year's Semi-Finals. And, whether they won or lost, the Class of 2019 will all want to do it all over again - starting next year. We can add names such as Breanna Stewart, Natasha Howard, Valeriane Ayayi, Amanda Zahui, Alyssa Thomas, Queralt Casas and Teja Oblak for example as those who have now added playing at a Final Four to their resume.