Australian Opals on top in Europe

Australian Opals on top in Europe

Two Australian Opals have been crowned champions in Russia and Hungary with their European club teams.

Beijing Silver Medallist Penny Taylor and her Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg defeated Opals teammate Lauren Jackson’s Spartak Moscow in the Russian Super League final while Kathleen MacLeod’s Sopron team was crowned Hungarian champion.

Taylor and UMMC Ekaterinburg held off a fast-finishing Spartak Moscow side to triumph 70-68.

Taylor first defeated Dynamo Moscow in the semi final series. Opal Belinda Snell posted 16 points to lead Dynamo Moscow in the first fixture but Taylor led all scorers with 19 points in 22 minutes off the bench for Ekaterinburg who won 95-60.

Ekaterinburg finished off the semis with a 71-62 win over Dynamo, Snell put up 13 points.

In the best-of-three finals series against Spartak Taylor struggled in the first game scoring just three points but Jackson posted seven points, however Ekaterinburg escaped with a two-point win 61-59.

The result was reversed in the second leg of the series, Spartak taking the game 86-67. Jackson lit up with 15 points as Taylor also lifted her game for eight points.

The decider was an agonising defeat for Spartak, falling by two points. They fought back valiantly when UMMC essentially had the Championship in reach at halftime as they controlled the game across the board. The fierce competitors they are, Spartak produced an inspired third quarter, only to see the game slip away on a couple of UMMC offensive boards in the last 27 seconds, writes

Stepanova's 18 points and 12 boards, as well as Bibrzycka's late heroics and 17 points, was enough for UMMC to get over the line. It was UMMC's home court and questionable calls didn't help Spartak's case. They fell short with Taurasi fouling out with five minutes to go, halting her on 17 points. Jackson did her work from the three-point line for 14 points; Fowles strong in the second half for 10 and 10.

It was a slow start for Spartak. They needed almost five minutes to get their first points on the board courtesy of Shchegoleva to end a 7-0 start by UMMC. As expected for the Grand Final, neither team found points easily but with Spartak trailing early, they received a couple of much-needed threes from LJ, who started on the bench. The quarter ended with UMMC leading 20-15.

Bibrzycka and Stepanova had their way in the first half for an expanding double figure lead. The foul count heavily favoured the home team and Spartak looked to be in trouble midway through the second quarter when Taurasi was forced to the bench with three fouls. UMMC pushed their lead out to 19 points - Penny Taylor adding 7 for the quarter a key part of their sustained run - and the game was firmly in their grasp.

Stepanova led with 16 points and 7 boards at the half. Bibrzycka had 11 and Taylor 10 whilst Spartak had no players in double figure scoring.

In desperate need of a strong third quarter, Spartak fought back in an astonishing turn of events to make it a 6-point ball game when Fowles became more involved. The hefty deficit reduced as Fowles hit 7 points in just over a minute, and LJ complemented Fowles work down low by splashing another three from range. At the end of the third quarter, Spartak trailed by just four, 56-60.

To start the final quarter, LJ landed her fourth three and Taurasi backed her up with two buckets to give Spartak their first lead of the game. It was a small lead, resulting in the teams fighting bucket for bucket. However, Spartak were dealt a huge blow when Taurasi and Shchegoleva both fouled out midway through the quarter.

Scoring dried up as the end of the game drew near. UMMC were back in front until Fowles split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 68 apiece with 1:40 remaining. With 27 seconds left and UMMC in possession, Spartak missed two rebounds that saw Bibrzycka get in position for the winning shot.

Opals squad member MacLeod posted 14 points and four assists to help her team, MKB Euroleasing Sopron to the Hungarian Championship. Sopron defeated Szeviep Szeged 76-71 in the final game to claim the series 3-1. MacLeod averaged 11 points and two assists in the first three games of the final series.

It is the third consecutive title for Sopron and MacLeod’s first with the team.

Main photo courtesy of UMMC Ekaterinburg
Photos below courtesy of FIBA Europe

Penny Taylor drives to the basket for UMMC Ekaterinburg   Lauren Jackson blocks out the crowd as she takes a                                                                                 free throw for Spartak Moscow

Kathleen MacLeod finds a gap for Sopron 

 Belinda Snell assesses her options