UMMC Ekaterinburg (19-1 Russian PBL; 13-1 EuroLeague Women), Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver’s off season team, and last year’s EuroLeague Women Champions, made quick, exacting work out of their ELW quarterfinal opponent, Famila Schio, winning both home and away games, 92-47 last Tuesday and 102-67 last Friday.
After winning this best-of-three series, UMMC will play in the semifinal. You can watch highlights of the second leg of the quarterfinals in the video above.
Schio was the Italian league champion and earned a spot in the EuroLeague QF riding a 7-7 record in ELW play. Despite their overwhelming underdog status, they brought a physical game and a ton of intensity.
During the series, random elbows initiated by both sides made the point that this was playoff basketball, with a lot of incentives riding on wins. Players definitely bulldozed a few people, whether they were up by 20 or on the other side of the scorecard demanding respect.
This rivalry absolutely got chippy. But that was the only drama, Ekat lined up behind Diana Taurasi's lights-out shooting to pull away in the first quarter.
Bench Depth is what sets UMMC apart
Up against the likes of Gold Medalists, WNBA Champions, National team starters and All Stars that come off the bench, there is simply no answer for UMMC’s ridiculous depth in Group B where they earned the number one seed going 13-1.
They average a 23 point margin of victory in ELW play and 26 in Russia’s Premier League.
No one on UMMC plays more than 25 minutes a game, which ensures a fresh onslaught at every whistle with the best shooters in the world at every position. Twice. If someone is having an off night, there are at least two other teammates that are not.
UMMC lost their only game in EuroLeague against Spanish side Perfumerias Avenida, short-handed, the first game of the season. Anchored by former Mystic, Jelena Milovanovic and Erika deSouza, Perfumerias play a smart, pressing, fast style that got the best of UMMC 35 games ago.
If Candace Parker’s Turkish stand-out Fenerbahce does not win game three on March 15, in their best of three quarterfinal, then UMMC indeed will see the Spanish side Avenida in the next round, the semifinal. And I expect them to be confident.
Dynamo Kursk, went 14-0 on the other side of the draw in Group A, (N. Ogwumike, A. McCoughtry, Anna Cruz and Maria Vadeeva’s Russian powerhouse of a team) so they might have an answer for the problem of Ekat — they split their two meetings in the Russian Premier League — but UMMC would not meet them until the Final in April.
This matchup has been the showdown to see all year. UMMC head coach Olaf Lange sat Meesseman and Slovenian national Nika Baric for the recent game they lost to Kursk on February 26, which was a predictable lackluster defensive effort, as Coach Lange immediately points out in the presser afterwards.
Taurasi and Griner sat the game before, and Meesse is the third leading scorer on UMMC behind them, so it was her turn.
Lange won’t sit them again. He needs Nika Baric’s speed and Meesse’s defense. There was no place to go to stop the bleeding when Kursk got on a roll in their last meeting, crystal clear.
I can only assume that Olaf is not showing his hand for the ELW playoffs....bc these rotations are shite. No Emma, no Nika Baric...ummm NO D— кукольный Дональд (@ElleLovesTennis) February 26, 2017
At least there was acknowledgement.
Defense wasn't up to par..hmmm Olaf Hmmmmmm https://t.co/cneXpHjKvT— кукольный Дональд (@ElleLovesTennis) February 26, 2017
So how are Meesseman and Toliver doing?
It seems worth pointing out how new ‘mates Kristi Toliver and Emma Meesseman, who are playing together on UMMC for the second year in a row, are connecting with so much riding on the season right now.
This is how the numbers look from the 16 ELW games they have played, below. (Out of a total of 36 games for the season)
Limited Minutes, Solid Results
There are a lot of good signs, including the numbers above, but this is one of my favorite chemistry signatures from the QF game 2.
Meesseman cuts through traffic to seal the defender and releases for a perfect dime from Toliver.
Text. Book. And one, below.
That’s a good look. Since the ‘Announcements’ there has been a palpable connection that has developed between Meesse and Toli.
Little things like this, below, led to the dime pass you see in the playoff game, above.
And I like what I am seeing when Meesse gets a chip on her shoulder and is in ‘you can’t stop me’ mode.
She was ELW player of the week, Feb 23. She took over a couple games in week 14. Yup, in under 22 minutes.
Kristi Toliver has played really well, 54% from 3 is excellent, so her numbers speak for themselves, and like Meesseman, has started many games, but has not had that ‘take over’ moment, though she has hit some dagger threes for sure.
To be honest, one of my main criticisms last season was that she was not looking for teammates on Ekat.
I do consider Toliver a Pro’s Pro and now that she has Meesse on her radar, there is a noticeable spring in her step and a lot crisper passing to everyone. Could it also be correlated to playoff season? Sure, but it is positive reinforcement regardless.
The Maryland legend played well on the Sparks’ Championship team last year. But there is a ‘career defining' moment happening, that veteran Toliver and Meesseman at 23, could hold down the Mystics and UMMC for the next few years, and hold up a lot of hardware.
They already have one ELW Championship under their belt, so no time like the present to bring that mentality state-side. I think there is someone else who wants in on a slice of that pie...
Oh hey, Elena Delle Donne. You might be a nice addition.