The day’s most surprising Euroleague outcome might have been this – all four quarterfinal series ended today in sweeps, with nary a deciding Game 3 in sight. Second only to that in unexpected results is Sparta&K Moscow Region overcoming a disappointing regular season and the loss of Lauren Jackson to reach the Euroleague Final Four for a fifth consecutive season.
Sparta&K completed its sweep of favored Fenerbahce with a resounding 74-56 victory today in Vidnoje. Epiphanny Prince sandwiched a pair of scores around the halftime break, helping spark a 12-2 run that pushed Sparta&K’s lead to 15 early in the third quarter. After Fenerbahce rallied back within 11, Spart&K answered with a 10-0 spurt that all but put the game away. Basically, it was the kind of dominant performance Sparta&K has made a habit during its run atop Euroleague that has included four consecutive championships.
Prince scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Sue Bird was typically efficient at the point – 13 points on 5-of-9 from the field, three assists and just one turnover in 31 minutes of play. Taj McWilliams controlled the paint, contributing eight points and 10 rebounds. Again, Sparta&K did a great job of containing Angel McCoughtry, who was limited to eight points on 4-of-10 shooting.
The other three teams went on the road to close out their series sweeps. Most impressive was UMMC Ekaterinburg, which swamped Cras Basket Taranto by a ridiculous 74-32 final. Suffocating defense stifled Taranto to 29.5 percent shooting. Only Sophia Young, with 12, reached double-figure scoring. Taranto’s Americans, Megan Mahoney and Michelle Greco, shot 2-of-10 and 0-of-5 respectively. (Greco was hampered by injury.) Taranto was able to keep it close for a quarter before totaling just 21 points over the next three. Candace Parker had 16 points and six rebounds for Ekaterinburg, which also got 10 points and seven boards from Maria Stepanova. Svetlana Abrosimova scored two points in 11 minutes.
Ros Casares Valencia hardly dominated its series against Bourges Basket, but Friday’s 63-58 win in France was enough to get Ros Casares through. Valencia built an early lead before the home team took the advantage early in the fourth quarter. Ros Casares used defense to hold Bourges at bay, holding them without a field goal for more than seven minutes. That was enough time for Ros Casares to build a double-digit lead, making Bourges’ final run too little and too late. Again, Katie Douglas torched the Bourges defense for 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting in addition to grabbing nine boards. Beyond that, Valencia enjoyed balanced scoring, including six points and five boards for Jana Vesela. Bourges, meanwhile, totally depended on Cathy Joens (20 points) and Emmeline Ndongue (16). When they went cold, so did Bourges.
In the last of the quarterfinals, Halcon Avenida offered perhaps the day’s most unexpected victory, beating a solid Wisla Can-Pack Krakow team 72-60 in Poland. The visitors led from start to finish and by as many as 22 points, giving more than enough cushion for a late Wisla run. Five Avenida players scored double-figures with Sancho Lyttle adding nine points. She and Erika de Souza combined for 20 points and 16 rebounds. Belinda Snell wasn’t part of the balanced scoring on an off night, finishing scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting. Erin Phillips was held below her usual average with just five points for Wisla, though she found other ways to contribute, grabbing eight boards and handing out five assists. Yelena Leuchanka paced Wisla with 19 points.
The Final Four will take place on April 8 and April 10, and we know now it will be in either Spain or Russia as one of the finalists plays host. We also can be reasonably confident the matchups will pit UMMC Ekaterinburg against Sparta&K in one semifinal and Halcon Avenida against Ros Casares in the other, as Euroleague rules try to avoid single-nation showdowns in the final. These are four Euroleague powers with a lot of talent and an equal amount of pride, which should make for a great finish to the Euroleague season.