One long look at the Qualifying Round for the EuroLeague Women indicates that at least one team, the United States, is headed for the podium.
Three of America’s leading players – Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird – helped Spartak Moscow Region cap an unbeaten run through the Qualifying Round of the EuroLeague on Wednesday with an 85-60 triumph over Lotos Gdynia.
Taurasi led the way with 17 points, Fowles scored 14 and pulled down 12 rebounds and Bird, who didn’t join Spartak until after the Christmas break, finished with 10 points and five assists.
Spartak, winners of the last three EuroLeague titles, are the only undefeated team in the competition at 10-0.
A few teams will have something to say about the Americans’ bid for glory in the Czech Republic and they are Australia, Russia and Brazil with the likes of France and Spain also potential surprise teams.
Not surprisingly, the biggest threats to Spartak’s supremacy in the EuroLeague Women – Russian rivals UMMC Ekaterinburg – have two leading Americans in Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter.
An American that has been prolific in the league this season and is arguably the MVP is Candice Dupree of Good Angels Kosice.
Dupree, who played at Team USA’s October training camp and could force her way into the squad for the Czech Republic, has carried her Kosice team on her back all season. On Wednesday at Gorzow in Poland, she had a very impressive 22 points and 19 rebounds as the Slovakians won for the sixth time in 10 games.
No team this season has managed to stop the 25-year-old Dupree, who is averaging 20.2 points and 11.3 rebounds. Dupree knows what it takes to play for Team USA because her coach at Temple was one of the all-time greats in USA Basketball history, Dawn Staley (now the South Carolina coach).
Maybe the best performance of Wednesday night in the EuroLeague Women was turned in by an Australian.
Penny Taylor, the MVP of the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Brazil, erupted for a season-high 29 points and did her damage from all over the court for Fenerbahce in their 82-69 triumph over Tarbes GB.
The 28-year-old scored with penetration, and from three-point range where she buried three of five shots.
Taylor has very quietly had one of the best shooting seasons of her career.
She has buried 46.4% (13 of 28) from long range. Inside the arc, Taylor is 38 of 73 (52.1%) while at the free-throw line, she’s been a lethal 90.7% (39 of 43).
Taylor is, in fact, the best free-throw shooter in the EuroLeague Women.
For Russia, Svetlana Abrosimova – a member of the all-tournament team at last year’s EuroBasket Women – had 21 points and five rebounds in UMMC’s 92-53 win over TTT Riga.
The Brazilian standout of this season has been Erika De Souza of Ros Casares.
The center had 14 points and nine rebounds in her team’s 77-47 demolition of Galatasaray.
Ros, despite finishing second in Group A, ended up with a top-four ranking for the play-offs and De Souza is a big reason why.
She has averaged 11.5 points and 8.4 rebounds, and her expected return to the Brazil squad bodes well for their chances in the Czech Republic.
France, the EuroBasket Women champions, will try to make headlines later this year and their center Sandrine Gruda is warming up for the Czech Republic in style. She had 18 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes for UMMC on Wednesday.
Her fellow frontcourt mate in the France team, Emmeline Ndongue, is one of the most underrated players in Europe. The 1.9m center had 15 points and 10 rebounds in Bourges’ 66-58 triumph over Rivas Ecópolis, a result that clinched a play-off spot for Bourges.
Spain could also cause some problems for the elite.
Their Amaya Valdemoro missed the early part of the season through injury but is getting back to full fitness. She had 21 points for Ros Casares in their victory over Galatasaray.
Also very exciting for Spain fans has been the fine play of Alba Torrens.
The Halcon Avenida wing was five of eight from behind the arc and scored 23 points while also handing out nine assists.