The most significant of Friday’s games in the EuroLeague Final Eight pitted Rivas Ecopolis against Fenerbahce for the top spot in Gropu A and a place in Sunday’s EuroLeague championship game. Playing without star forward Penny Taylor, who suffered a possible MCL injury the day before, Fenerbahce fell behind by as many as 14 points early in the fourth quarter but rallied to make things interesting. A Birsel Vardarli triple cut the deficit to just one at 71-70 with 46 seconds to play, but Vardarli turned the ball with a chance to tie inside the final 15 seconds. Asjha Jones came up with the steal and assisted an Anna Cruz layup, producing the final 74-70 margin and sending upstart Rivas to play Ros Casares Valencia for the championship.
On paper, the final matchup is no contest. While Valencia’s lineup is studded with stars, Ecopolis counters with just two active WNBA players (Jones and Essence Carson) plus international vet Elisa Aguilar. Ros Casares swept two regular-season Liga Feminina matchups against its Spanish rival by a combined 38 points, and while Valencia went undefeated (26-0) in league play, Rivas finished fourth on the table at 17-9. Yet Ecopolis has already pulled off three upsets in the Final Eight, riding 22.3 points and 12.0 rebounds per game from Jones to an improbable opportunity.
Sunday’s game will be played at 11:45 a.m. PST and can be seen on FIBAEurope.com TV.
Having already locked in a spot in the final, Ros Casares was able to prepare on Friday by dominating Wisla Can-Pack Krakow, 90-61. Valencia led by 13 after one quarter and 27 at the break in the mismatch. Lauren Jackson played just nine minutes, scoring five points, while Ann Wauters had 10 points in 17 minutes. Isabelle Yacoubou led Ros Casares with 20 points off the bench, while Shay Murphy scored 19 and Maya Moore contributed 12 points and 12 boards. The powerful Valencia front line was able to focus its attention on Ewelina Kobryn, who was able to attempt just three shots, finishing with three points and six rebounds.
The meaningful Group B game pitted Russian rivals UMMC Ekaterinburg and Sparta&K Moscow Region for second place. Sue Bird made the difference in an 86-80 Ekaterinburg triumph, scoring 13 of her 18 points in the final quarter, including a trio of three-pointers that helped hold Sparta&K at bay down the stretch. Sandrine Gruda had 21 points and nine boards for Ekaterinburg, while Candace Parker scored 14. On the other side, Seimone Augustus scored 19 points and Becky Hammon 18 for Sparta&K.
While UMMC will now play Fenerbahce for third place on Sunday, the team will be without star center Maria Stepanova. Stepanova tore her ACL early in the game, a crushing blow that will rule her out for Russia in this summer’s Olympics.