When my youngest son and I arrived at the Spiroudome on the evening of the 28th Nov., the scoreboard already showed 9-12 for the Russian team of Nadezhda Orenburg against Castors Braine in a FIBA EuroLeague Women's Group A regular season game. In front of a sparse attendance, Castors Braine remained in the race and performed well despite the limited number of players fit and able to play that evening. Belgian international player Antonia Delaere, British center Abby Rendle, young Russian power forward Albina Razheva and Estonia's experienced guard Merike Anderson did not play for the Castors while Kenyan-Canadian power forward Adut Bulgak did not wear the Nadezhda outfit but stood behind her team's bench to support her mates that night.
We quickly understood that Karlie Samuelson on the Castors' side and Erica Wheeler for Nadezhda Orenburg had been pretty efficient offensively in the first minutes of their fourth game in the European women basketball clubs'top competition. Although Castors' center Ruth Hamblin looked out of breath when we arrived, the Belgian side managed to stay close mainly thanks to the hard work of Celeste Trahan-Davis as well as the engagement of Karlie Samuelson and Emmanuella Mayombo. WNBA star Brionna Jones (she plays for the Connecticut Sun in the summer) was well present in all sectors of the game for the visitors. The huge difference of budget between the Russian club and the Belgian one did not translate into a large gap at the end of the first quarter. The scoreboard displayed 19-21 in favour of the ladies from Orenburg but it left their Spanish coach Victor Lapeña wanting more.
The Belgian squad remained competitive even though a lack of rotation was well perceived by the observers present in Charleroi, Belgium. Castors Braine took the lead at 24-21 and 26-23 early in the second quarter, forcing Lapeña to boost his team. The Orenburg players' reaction came via the two Russian players Viktoriia Medvedeva (who won the EuroLeague Women title with Dynamo Kursk of Russia in 2017) and Ekaterina Fedorenkova (who won two FIBA EuroCup titles in a row with Dynamo Moscow in 2013 and 2014 and is a member of the Russian national team) as well as via their other key players Brionna Jones from the USA and Sandra Ygueravide from Spain. The battle in the paint between Brionna Jones for Nadezhda Orenburg and Ruth Hamblin for Castors Braine was worth watching. Jones made the second of two free throws to make 26-32 for the Russian squad with 4'43" remaining in the first half. Castors' Head Coach Pascal Angilis multiplied the substitions in order not to get most of his seven players exhausted. Both teams missed many shots and it remained a 6-point game at the half despite efforts by Karlie Samuelson for Castors and Erica Wheeler for Orenburg: 28-34.
After 30-38, Castors Braine became quite efficient in offense. Celeste Trahan-Davis and Manon Grzesinski showed the way to the basket to their Castors mates and managed to reduce the gap (37-40). Orenburg's center Brionna Jones kept impressing the small crowd that gathered at the Spiroudome that evening. Castors Braine's guards Emmanuella Mayombo and Mariona Ortiz hit nice shots and gave a new lead to their team at 47-44. Castors' US center Ruth Hamblin played tough in defense (6 block shots) and eventually looked very efficient in the paint on offense too. Castors managed to get on top by a margin of 6 points at the end of the third quarter (55-49).
Hamblin and her mates remained very efficient on both ends of the court and even recorded a 12-point advantage (65-53) on a beautiful 2-point jump shot made by British international player Karlie Samuelson. Viktoriia Medvedeva then hit two three-pointers in a row. She put her Russian team back on the right track. Nadezhda Orenburg's American point guard Erica Wheeler (who also plays for Indiana Fever in the WNBA during the summertime) suddenly started her show and, together with her mate Brionna Jones, brought her team back into the game at 69-69 with 1'01" remaining on the clock. Erica Wheeler quickly ran down the court and then made a pretty layup to offer Orenburg the lead at 69-71. A last sloppy play by the Castors left a bitter taste in the local fans' mouth. Their favorite team finally lost this thrilling game by a small margin (69-71) but the Castors' performance with only seven players available against Nadezhda Orenburg, a Russian powerhouse, gave them some hope for the next appointments in the FIBA EuroLeague Women 2018-19.
Special thanks to "basketinbelgium.be" for having offered a free pass to attend and enjoy this pretty good women's basketball game.
Score evolution: 19-21, 28-34, 55-49 and 69-71.
Castors: Sien Devliegher 0, Mariona Ortiz 10, Celeste Trahan-Davis 15, Manon Grzesinski 2, Ruth Hamblin 13, Karlie Samuelson 13, Emmanuella Mayombo 16.
Nadezhda: Ekaterina Fedorenkova 0, Anastasia Shilova 2, Kseniia Tikhonenko 0, Sandra Ygueravide 9, Erica Wheeler 22, Zhosselina Maiga 2, Brionna Jones 24, Viktoriia Medvedeva 12.
Pictures: Bert Larsimont; The Diamondback, by Kyle Stackpole and Getty Images, by Justin Casterline