Watch out everybody, the Good Angels of Kosice are beginning to rise up.
After a third win in four weeks, the Slovak club are currently 6-4 in Group C and can enjoy their winter rest, although coach Stefan Svitek probably wants the season to continue unbroken due to the current great form his team has showed.
Heading into the game with Gospic Croatia Osiguranje, the two teams were lying in fifth and sixth spot with plenty on the line in terms of taking momentum into the new calendar year. I was anticipating a great game but instead, we just got a truly wonderful performance from the hosts who were rampant from tip to buzzer and chalked up a magnificent 106-66 success to crush their Croatian opponent.
American guard Danielle Mc Cray epitomises how carefully Good Angels Kosice are selecting players and bulding their team. In her rookie EuroLeague Women season, she averages 16.3 points per game
Leading the way was Week 10 MVP Lucia Kupcikova who I feel delivered one of the best individual performances of the season. She scored 18 points in 24 minutes including a perfect six of six from the free throw line and six of eight from the field. She also added six rebounds and six assists. Most impressively of all and literally on the topic of rising up, a week after Agnieszka Majewska became the first player this season to block five shots in a game, Kupcikova smashed that with a brilliant seven blocks.
I have huge admiration for the accomplishments of Good Angels Kosice in recent years since they have shown what is achievable from what, with the greatest respect, I would describe as a ‘mid-level' EuroLeague Women club. In other words, a club without vast resources and expectation but who simply know that if they perform, they have a chance of making the play-offs but if they don't play well then they won't.
Kosice have shown improvement year on year and with baby steps have found real stability in terms of their performances but top of my list in terms of praising them is how they have moved to a team concept without relying on one or two big names like in previous seasons.
There is still much to do in a competitive Group C but at this point, Good Angels fans can be satisfied they have another team to be proud of and many young players who if they could keep together for seasons to come, might catapult them into an even better side.
A WELCOME BREAK
Conversely, the break we now enter for a month or so probably couldn't come quick enough for a number of teams who have hit a bad patch and are on the slide in Group C. Only a few weeks ago, Rivas Ecopolis were sitting pretty and enjoying the plaudits having posted a stunning run of five successive victories. However they now head into 2012 on a painful three game losing streak which has relegated them to the dangerous fringes of Group C having been right in the thick of the race to finish in top spot during mid November.
It's almost an identical situation for Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomeration who have lost three of the last four games and are also on a downward spiral having won four of their first six games of the season. While there is still some breathing space between them and the likes of Gospic CO and Cras Basket Taranto, it's getting a little too close for comfort with both BLMA and Rivas hoping for a reversal of fortune when they return to the floor.
UNHAPPY END FOR HEJKOVA
As with many powerhouse clubs with elite level expectations, Ros Casares bosses always have their finger ready on the trigger and I guess that is their prerogative after investing a vast amount of resources in the pursuit of EuroLeague Women success. So, I can't say I was totally surprised when they announced Natalia Hejkova was to leave her post as head coach and Roberto Iniguez would be jumping into the hot seat - a very, very hot-seat by the way.
Regular readers of Paulball will know I have been unconvinced about Ros Casares all season long, despite their record which is far from a disaster. However the way they lost to the 1-7 VICI Aistes Kaunas was always going to crank up the pressure on Hejkova.
Highly decorated coach Natalia Hejkova is out of a job after only 10 months at Ros Casares, as the Valencia club is aiming for nothing short of perfection
In her mitigation, she did accumulate some good results including a fantastic win in Istanbul at Galatasaray Medical Park and a home floor success over UMMC Ekaterinburg. Without knowing the inner workings of the Ros camp and with rumours it was due mainly to a lack of intensity during practices (something I find difficult to believe) speculation still reigns supreme.
From the outside looking in, the team didn't look like they had gelled and the long running question I posed about finding an effective role for one of the best three or four players in the world in the form of Lauren Jackson wasn't really answered. To win EuroLeague Women I have always maintained Ros will need the likes of LJ leading the way along with the legendary Ann Wauters.
Perhaps at a very simplistic level, the Ros management just asked themselves if a solution might be found in time (something Hejkova seemed to be asking for) and whether they felt the team in its current form would finish top of the podium. But, I suspect the answer they came up was 'possibly' - rather than the minimum requirement of 'probably'.
It may have gone largely unnoticed due to a stellar display by Ewelina Kobryn and another fine win by Wisla Can-Pack but exciting French talent Diandra Tchatchouang made her career debut in European club competition when she stepped out for Basket Lattes Montpellier - albeit for only five minutes.
At the end of what has been a frustrating year for the forward who has been battling with injury, it bodes well for 2012 knowing we will hopefully be seeing much more of Tchatchouang who has spent the last few years tearing it up at youth level with France. Hugely talented, it will be intriguing to see if she can live up to the expectation and bid for a place on the senior National Team.
PAULBALL WEEK 10 PICKS
Performance Of The Week: While I admire the way Ekat handled a little bit of pressure which was building with a win over Galatasaray, I really can't look past an awesome performance by Good Angels Kosice in totally destroying Gospic Croatia Osiguranje. It's a win which shoots them up to a superb third place in Group C and really puts them on the front foot heading into 2012.
Cameo Of The Week:Candace Parker grabbed the headlines for her impressive performance in the televised game against Galatasaray, but the contribution of UMMC Ekaterinburg team-mate Yelena Leuchanka was crucial. She finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Rising Star Watch:Romane Bernies managed six minutes for Bourges Basket in Gyor- five more than the one minute she has been given previously! Magdelena Zietara of Lotos Gdynia claimed eight points and three rebounds but showed her value to coach Fort who played her for 30 minutes in Valencia. While in Salamanca, Fanni Szabo of Sopron produced another encouraging and tidy display offensively with four points in 11 minutes, making both her shots.
Stats Don't Lie: Ewelina Kobryn had a sensational game for Wisla Can Pack on the road at Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomeration, where she produced the second deadliest shooting performance of the competition by converting 10 of 11 field goal attempts on her way to a terrific 25-point haul.
The numbers seven and eight are also prominent this week with those seven great blocked shots by Week 10 MVP Lucia Kupcikova while Fenerbahce racked up an eighth successive win of the season and this time, they can be assured the only unbeaten record in the tournament will stand for another four weeks!
Cheryl Ford equalled the highest number of rebounds in a game this season by pulling down 18 for Schio while both Iva Ciglar and Laia Palau showed their playmaking skils by raising the bar for the number of assists to a joint season high 13 this week.