The CB Avenida de Salamanca will fight again for the women’s Euroleague 10 years after its conquest in the 2011 edition of Yekaterinburg. With patience first, with determination later and always with self-denial, Perfumerías overcame the resistance of the Hungarian Sopron (72-61) and was cited in the final on Sunday (18.00, Tdp) with the almighty Yekaterinburg. The third in its history in the maximum continental competition. The energy of Tiffany Hayes (25 points), the class of Katie Lou Samuelson (16) and the experience of Silvia Domínguez (7 assists) ended up overwhelming an opponent who appeared tough in the semifinal but was melted by the mental strength of the Salamanca team that, in the pineapple after the game, promised one more effort in search of the feat.
The Avenida held onto the defense to dispel fears, calibrate forces and measure the physical state of a rotation full of ailments. Katie Lou Samuelson, Tiffany Hayes and Emese Hof began to make their way in Istanbul as Sopron racked up fouls from contention mismatches. The replacement of Silvia Domínguez by Maite Cazorla in the direction reinforced the game plan of Roberto Íñiguez and increased the protection of his team to full court. Although there were only five baskets per side in a first quarter with hardly any gaps, the Salamanca team managed to gain a narrow margin from the free throw line. Point to point, a metaphor for the laborious challenge that lay ahead (16-10, m. 10).
Sopron then turned to Bernadett Hatar, the roof of the Final Four with his 2.08m, to change the dynamics. With the intimidation of the Hungarian center and the first two triples of the game, scored by Gabby Williams and Megan Walker, the performance of the Magyar attack grew. But the defensive dedication and the effervescence of Hayes (12 points in his first 12 minutes on the court; 14 in the first half), allowed Perfumerías to keep the pulse and offset their 0 of 7 in triples (4 of 13 at the end). The impulse of Nikolina Milic the Salamanca team confirmed the balance in the match before the trip to the changing rooms (30-32, m. 20).
In the resumption, Hof took the third foul on Hatar and, with the strength of Hayes, Avenida confirmed his final rearmament. Hayes’ attacks were the great argument of the Salamanca team but, at times, also the only one, because the perimeter was still off. But, with judgment and patience, Perfumerías began to frustrate their rival and found their aim. Sopron did not manage the anxiety and Katie Lou Samuelson scored the first triple. It was the release that Íñiguez’s team needed to unleash their determination. Confidence crossed with Magyar doubts. The second bingo since 6.75, by Maite Cazorla at the beginning of the last quarter, broke the score (55-42, m. 31).
Briann Januari and Tina Krajisnik held Sopron for a few more minutes, in full distress. But another triple, this time from Karlie Samuelson, and a two plus one from Milic ended up putting the Salamanca victory on track (66-51, m. 36). Silvia Domínguez managed the rent smoothly, took the fifth foul on Jelena Brooks and raised the lead to +19 (70-51). A decade later, Avenida returns to the Euroleague final. Another ode to competitiveness and resilience.
Yekaterinburg will play the Euroleague final for the sixth time in the last eight editions. The team led by Miguel Méndez beat Víctor Lapeña’s Fenerbahçe (84-88), who fought until the end after recovering a 12-point deficit in the second half. Alina Iagupova’s 26 points in 26 minutes on the court were not enough for the Turkish team. Allie Quigley (27 points), Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner imposed their law for talent and physique. Yekaterinburg will fight for its sixth continental crown, as will Alba Torrens, who contributed 10 points in the semi-final. To win the title, Torrens would reach Diana Taurasi and Lidia Gorlin, on the podium together with Uliana Semenova, the mythical record holder of the tournament with 11 trophies.
Fenerbahçe withstood the frenetic pace imposed by its rival from the start thanks, again, to the outstanding performance of Alina Iagupova: 18 points, with 4 of 5 in triples, and three assists in the 19 minutes that she was on track in the first two rooms. But, as soon as Satou Sabally joined the cause of Iagupova in attack and Lapeña’s team began to make the rubber just before the intermission. Despite the Turkish side’s 8 of 13 in triples in that section (12 of 26 at the end), Yekaterinburg dominated the match due to the intensity of their rotation. Allie Quigley, Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones balanced the fight under the hoops and gave momentum to Mendez’s game plan (48-55, m. 20).
The appearance of Kayla McBride granted Fenerbahçe a momentary reengagement with a 9-0 run at the restart, from 48-60 to 57-60. But the strength of Brittney Griner and the progressive contribution of Alba Torrens allowed Yekaterinburg to maintain command with more solvency than ease. The defenses lowered the flight on the scoreboard. The third quarter ended in a draw (13-13) and the Russian team entered the home straight with an income of seven points (61-68, m. 30). Sabally and Iagupova refused to sign the early surrender and, with another scoring outburst, settled scores (73-77, m. 35). Enough to unleash anguish on the Russian side after walking steadily all afternoon. At 65-75, Alba Torrens missed an additional shot after a triple to break the score and, four minutes later, Kiah Stokes signed the tie (79-79, m. 37). And an unlikely triple by Iagupova, on a board and from nine meters, stretched the uncertainty until the end (84-86, in the absence of 13s). So far came the proud pursuit of Fenerbahçe.