VALENCIA (EuroLeague Women Final Four) - USA superstar Diana Taurasi is just two wins a way from celebrating a fourth consecutive EuroLeague Women title with Spartak Moscow Region.
Once again, star-studded UMMC Ekaterinburg stand in the way.
UMMC have some of the best players in the world, including Taurasi fellow Team USA stars Candice Parker and Cappie Pondexter.
The two sides will square off in Friday’s first Semi-Final in Valencia.
Taurasi, who will take center stage with the United States later this year at the FIBA World Championship for Women, has gone up against UMMC on numerous occasions in her four seasons in Russia.
UMMC beat Spartak in the last two Russian Cups and also in the 2009 Superleague Women title series, but Taurasi and Co have defeated the Ekaterinburg outfit in the last two EuroLeague Women Semi-Finals and they will also have home-court advantage should the teams meet in this year’s domestic championship.
It’s a confrontation that never gets old for Taurasi.
“There is a lot of history, and it goes back to even before I came to Russia,” Taurasi said to FIBA.com.
“They've had a rivalry for a long time, and we've continued that for the last three or four years. I think this year, if you look at their roster, I don't think there has ever been a better team put together. For us to even come close to competing, we're going to have to play at the highest level for 40 minutes.”
UMMC have Svetlana Abrosimova, a member of the all-tournament team at last year’s EuroBasket Women in Latvia, along with her Russia international teammates Maria Stepanova and Olga Arteshina, France European champions Sandrine Gruda and Celine Dumerc, Belgium center Ann Wauters and American Deanna Nolan.
Taurasi is also surrounded by stars, too, including fellow Americans Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird, Janel McCarville and Kelly Miller, Russians Irina Osipova, Ilona Korstin, Marina Karpunina and Ekaterina Lisina and Latvia’s Anete Jekabson-Zogota.
“It's one thing to have great players, it's something else to be able to play together and compete,” Taurasi said.
“I think that's the hardest thing to do in basketball, to have so many talented players and make everyone feel that each part is important.”
That is something that the coaches of both teams, UMMC’s Gundars Vetra and Spartak’s Pokey Chatman, have done well.
They have made the most of their talent.
Taurasi isn’t the only American basketball great going for a fourth straight EuroLeague Women crown.
Bird is also taking aim at another title after playing on the previous three championship teams.
“Sue's just the best, really,” Taurasi said.
“Talk about one player that if you had to pick to surround with great players, it's her. Not only is she one of the best players, she knows how to get the best out of people. It's the subtle things that she does when she plays that really are amazing.”
The players of Wisla Can-Pack Krakow, Spartak, UMMC and Ros Casares have had to win a lot of battles to reach the Final Four.
Now it’s time to enjoy it, and that should be easy for all four teams when they run onto the floor at La Fonteta.
“Spain’s amazing,” Taurasi said.
“Their fans will make it worth going there. They are passionate about the game. You feel it when you walk into the gym, when you get on the bus to go to the game. It’s what you live for.”
– Pauline Courtois leads after first day
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