EKATERINBURG (EuroLeague Women) – It´s so far, so good for UMMC Ekaterinburg as the Russian Giants look to win a EuroLeague Women title that has eluded the club for the past several years.
Coach Olaf Lange and Co, who are hosting the Final Eight, have reached the Semi-Finals.
On Friday, they will face French outfit Bourges, a side that recovered from an opening day mauling at the hands of Fenerbahce to stay in the hunt.
In the other Semi-Final will be Slovakians Good Angels Kosice and Turkish club Fenerbahce, perhaps the team best equipped to give a powerhouse like UMMC some trouble in a title showdown on Sunday.
UMMC and Fener, two sides loaded with national team stars, had better not look past their next opponents.
While Bourges crashed to a 69-44 Group B defeat on Monday against Fener, they beat Sparta&K Moscow Region and Beretta Famila Schio to progress.
There is definitely quality in their team, but is there enough to beat UMMC?
Four of the Bourges players - French silver-medal winners Celine Dumerc, Emmeline Ndongue and Endene Miyem and Great Britain´s Jo Leedham – played at the Olympics.
The biggest cause for hope for Bourges, however, may be Marissa Coleman.
In their must-win game against Schio, Coleman poured in 19 points in a 60-56 triumph.
The 1.83m guard/forward, who wore the United States jersey at the 2004 U18 The Americas Tournament Junior for Women and at the 2007 Pan American Games, has been crucial for Bourges since joining them after the Regular Season.
In their other do-or-clash at the Final Eight against Sparta&K, Coleman had 16 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in a 71-64 Bourges triumph.
Bourges may have to play perfect basketball against UMMC and even that may not be enough.
The tournament hosts this week blew away CCC Polkowice (68-45), Good Angels Kosice (72-41) and Galatasaray (72-44) in their Group A games.
Who has been the most valuable player for UMMC?
Candace Parker has been solid, as expected.
The two-time USA Olympic champion set the tone in the opening game with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
They have players that would be the leaders in other teams like Diana Taurasi (USA), Sandrine Gruda (France) and Ewelina Kobryn (Poland).
There are also standouts like Deanna Nolan (USA), Silvia Dominguez (Spain), Olga Arteshina, Anna Petrakova, Tatiana Popova and Maria Stepanova (all Russia), Quanitra Hollingsworth (Turkey) and Anete Jekabsone (Latvia).
Fenerbahce have not been quite as dominant as UMMC at the Final Eight, yet they are still unbeaten.
After their romp against Bourges, the Turkish giants thrashed Beretta Famila Schio, 86-59, but Fener had to pull out all stops to overcome Sparta&K, 73-70.
Cappie Pondexter, a gold medal winner with the United States at the 2008 Olympics, had 26 points in their win against the Russians.
Fenerbahce trailed by as many as four points in the fourth quarter.
Pondexter hit a big three-ball and Serbian
Ivana Matovic provided the go-ahead lay-up with less than four minutes remaining.
Angel McCoughtry, another gold-medal winning American from last year´s Olympics, had 16 points and 14 boards for Fener.
Fener have also received steady performances from their Belarus international Anastasiya Verameyenka and Turkey point guard Birsel Vardarli.
They are the only side in the last four to have a coach that knows what it feels like to win the title.
Just last season, Fenerbahce boss Roberto Iniguez was at the helm of Ros Casares and steered them to victory against Rivas Ecopolis in the Final.
Fener´s Semi-Final opponents Good Angels Kosice have like Bourges been on the wrong end of a very big score, losing by 31 to UMMC, yet still managed to win 66-54 against Polkowice to stay alive in the competition.
Though not possessing a squad of international superstars, the team does have the dangerous Plenette Pierson, a player that can go off for a big number against any opponent.
She had 22 points in the victory over Polkowice.
The 1.86m power forward is averaging 15.8 points and 5.1 rebounds on the season.