The time is now: Will Fenerbahce finally deliver?
ISTANBUL (Turkey) - Favorites since the first ball of the season was thrown up, Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding find themselves two wins away from a long-awaited first EuroLeague Women title.
They head to the Final Four in Prague with most people expecting them to make up for all the previous disappointments, including last year when they made the Final on their own floor and then were stunned by first-time winners Sopron Basket.
"WE LOOK FORWARD TO CREATING OUR OWN STORY AND DESTINY." - Breanna Stewart
Fenerbahce are on a 14 game win streak and have had a great season after a shaky start. There are bidding to make the title game for the fifth time, having lost all their previous outings in 2022, 2017, 2014 and 2013, but all that truly matters is the silverware they have waited so long to land.
"What happened last year and the year before is not this year. It's a new season and with new payers and we look forward to creating our own story and destiny," insisted Breanna Stewart.
"I think the level of EuroLeague Women is increasing every season because people take pride in playing in EuroLeague Women. People want to be in this league. People who have not been here before are watching us and that's why it is competitive.
"WE HAVE GOT TO WIN... THERE ARE NO OTHER EXCUSES." - Marina Maljkovic
"You look at the players who have been through this league before and you know the ones that have won and everybody wants to be part of that."
Much of whether Fenerbahce finally live up to their top billing as favorites will come down to handling expectations, but head coach Marina Maljkovic is not leaving any room for complacency.
She insisted: "We have got to win. That's why we're here. There are no other excuses. There is no comfort zone."
"It is one thing that is very common to myself and to his club. It is pressure on a daily basis. I simply don't know living without pressure and it is the same thing for my players."
Check out the Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding team profile:
Four reasons Fenerbahce can make history and win their first title
Coach Maljkovic is a magnet for silverware
Rightly heralded as one of the best coaches in the women's game, Marina Maljkovic has attained success just about wherever she has coached, including when she took over the reins in Istanbul after last year's disappointing Final Four defeat and delivered the Turkish Championship. Her unprecedented achievements with the Serbia national team are renowned and the general consensus is that Fenerbahce have one of the very best to mastermind a successful finish their longstanding mission.
Stewart and Meesseman - Final Four MVP class
What did Fenerbahce not have last season? Two of the world's leading players in Breanna Stewart and Emma Meesseman who have both excelled at the Final Four. Indeed both are in the MVP club having previously shone with UMMC Ekaterinburg. Their quality and record of delivering in the biggest games at club and international level is unquestionable. It feels like this time around, with this phenomenal duo in situ - and also in great form, Fenerbahce have the cream of the crop that will make sure they don't fall short.
Don't forget about the defense
Fenerbahce are the leading scorers in the competition (85.8 points per game), have the best field goal percentage (46.8 percent) and are chart-toppers for assists (23.8 per game) but their strong defense has been almost forgotten about. Yes, they have super firepower and can run and gun, but they can also apply major defensive pressure when it's needed. With an average of almost 12 steals per game which is 2 more than any other team this season, they also box out well and don't give up too many second chance points.
Quite simply? It's time
It may not even sound like a tangible reason at all, but after last year's so-called coronation which spectacularly imploded, the prospect of not winning this season seems even more unthinkable and unbearable for Fenerbahce fans. They have all the tools, amazing options all over the floor and it feels like it truly is in their hands. It's never easy of course, but after four previous Finals, it must be fifth time lucky - after all, we haven't even mentioned Courtney Vandersloot, Kayla McBride, Alina Iagupova or Satou Sabally!