17 - 27
June 2021
Team France
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Expert Panel: Who has impressed, who has not and who will make the Final?

STRASBOURG / VALENCIA (France / Spain) - As the pause button gets pushed ahead of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 Semi-Finals, we check in with an expert panel to get its take on how things are going down as we head into the last weekend of the tournament.

We've turned to a trio of FIBA TV commentators in the shape of  Shona Thorburn, Azania Stewart and Jeff Taylor to get their thoughts on the competition and predictions. 

Shona Thorburn is a two-time Olympian with Canada and was assistant coach last season with EuroLeague Women side Basket Landes who were crowned French champions. Azania Stewart is an Olympian with Great Britain and has played at multiple editions of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket. Jeff Taylor is 'The Voice of FIBA' and has been commentating on the biggest women's games for two decades.

Which team has been the biggest surprise of the tournament?

Shona Thorburn: For me it has to be Bosnia and Herzegovina. We all knew that Jonquel Jones was an excellent player, but the 'X-Factor' has been Nikolina Babic and Marica Gajic also stepping up. Plus, everyone else has contributed at different times too. That being said, Russia also look like they will be competing for a medal next time around which has been a nice surprise.

Azania Stewart: I have not managed to see them play live in the flesh, but I agree with the choice of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I knew Jones would be such a big factor and she has come through like nobody's business with such great play. My original selection in the previous experts panel delivered as they were my prediction to cause a surprise! 

Jeff Taylor: The biggest surprise for me, and because I have been able to watch them, has been Belarus. This is a country that had tradition and heroes previously, yet it seemed that their time had passed. And, the last thing that I expected was for them to reach the Semi-Finals. Their performance illustrates how crucial it is to have experience and not just a  good, but a great point guard. Alexandria Bentley has from the first second been a fearless player and excelled in big moments. Also, in my opinion, Anastasiya Verameyenka has also never played better and that is saying something, since we remember how well she performed at the start of her national team career. 

Turkey's record across the last three major tournaments is now 1-10

Which team has been the biggest disappointment?

Shona Thorburn: Turkey were disappointing. Their league is one of the best in Europe and yet they can't put a better team on the floor and one that is more competitive? I think they have only a 1-10 record in their last three major tournaments. Even when they never medalled before, they were still always super competitive and dangerous. It’s unacceptable for them to have dropped off this much and to not even be able to beat smaller basketball nations. 

Azania Stewart: Italy, because they had Cecilia Zandalasini and some good post players on heir team but they couldn't piece it all together at the right time. Zandalasisni was good as usual and tried to carry her team, but collectively they didn’t play as a unit and that didn't put them in a successful position.

Jeff Taylor: Italy for me was one of the best teams in the tournament at the end of day one. But they were, inexplicably, not ready mentally for the game against Sweden in the Qualification to the Quarter-Finals. If a coach needs an example to show his players why it is crucial to focus on their own performances and not the referees, that was it. Equally, Spain rose from the dead and looked like a team that could win the title, yet a couple of bad minutes at the end of regulation against Serbia in the Quarter-Finals effectively ended their title defense, so that was disappointing also.

France are the overwhelming favorites to advance to the Final

Which team will make the Final - France or Belarus?

Shona Thorburn: France plain and simple – it's their tournament to lose.

Azania Stewart: France have a stronger, deeper bench and while any starting five is important, the 6th, 7th and 8th players on rosters have become even more important. Belarus have three top players but after that, it is probably too much to hold  on for 40 minutes. They will play France tough, but the depth and speed of their opponents will be too much .

Jeff Taylor: The experience, talent, depth and size of France will allow them to overcome Belarus, a team that must play a perfect game to even have a chance of beating the favorites.

Emma Meesseman of Belgium could be ready to take her nation to a first ever Final

Which team will make the Final - Belgium or Serbia?

Shona Thorburn: I am going to go with Belgium because the loss to Slovenia was a wake-up call earlier in the tournament. I am not sure who can stop Emma Meesseman and slow down Julie Allemand. Plus, now Kim Mestdagh has found her shot – it makes them very dangerous and especially if the other players can play consistently, too.

Azania Stewart: Serbia because they are battle-tested, they go deep through their bench, they are long and lean and they can force that full court press and trap that just won’t let up. They turned over Spain in crucial moments and they have not lost yet . I have a feeling they will continue that momentum. 

Jeff Taylor: Serbia should beat Belgium because of experience and depth, but most importantly, the defense. When Serbia play their defense, no team can withstand the pressure.

Could Sonja Vasic crown what may be her last edition of the competition with the MVP accolade?

Who is your MVP?

Shona Thorburn:  You have to go with Jonquel Jones considering what she has done statistically in propelling Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup Qualifiers.  Her numbers are incredible. I also love Emma Meesseman of Belgium, though.

Azania Stewart: I am going with Sonja Vasic as she is playing very well and had one of the best games of her career to overcome Italy in overtime during the group phase. Also she demanded the ball against Spain when her team needed her. I also think credit is due to Belarus guard Alexandria Bentley. She is  feeling so good and looks like she is in the zone. She was shouting "they can't guard me" against Sweden and while there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, I have been very impressed with her. 

Jeff Taylor: This is the moment when Sandrine Gruda puts an exclamation mark on her outstanding national team career and leads France to the top of the podium!