Turkish basketball powerhouse Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding entered the 2022-23 EuroLeague Women season with a “win or bust” mentality, having come up short in last year’s championship game. The club invested heavily in imports, adding big names Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman at various points throughout the season to an already-impressive core that featured Satou Sabally, Kayla McBride and Alina Iagupova — moves that made Fenerbahçe the clear favorite to win it all.
Those championship dreams have now been realized. On Sunday, Fenerbahçe trounced fellow Turkish club CBK Mersin Yenişehir Bld in the EuroLeague Women final, winning the first-ever EuroLeague Women championship in its storied history on that backs of its imported stars.
History was made in the competition’s third-place game, too, as Italian club Beretta Famila Schio defeated EuroLeague Women Final Four host ZVVZ USK Praha in a nail-biting contest that had more twists and turns than one could count — including an improbable and controversial finish that epitomized the unpredictable nature of the EuroLeague Women postseason.
Fenerbahçe cruises past Mersin to win EuroLeague Women title
Until 2023, Fenerbahçe had never won a EuroLeague Women championship, despite routinely being one of the higher-profile clubs in the competition. Fenerbahçe finished in second place in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2022, but had yet to win a EuroLeague Women gold medal.
From the early minutes of Sunday’s championship game, it was clear that was about to change. Fenerbahçe jumped out to an early lead over Mersin and never looked back, powered by an aggressive defense (12 steals in the game) and a performance from Stewart that was, in a word, superhuman. So dominant was the forward that for much of the first half, she matched Mersin’s scoring by herself; Stewart finished the game with 35 points, setting a new EuroLeague Women record for points scored in a final game.
Fenerbahçe got championship-level contributions up and down its roster, too, including an ultra-efficient 10 points, seven rebounds and six steals in 24 minutes from regular-season MVP Meesseman and a trio of 3-pointers from McBride. As a team, Fenerbahçe hit a dozen 3-pointers, collected 13 offensive rebounds and forced 20 Mersin turnovers, pushing a massive halftime lead to as many as 44 points late in the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, Fenerbahçe had won 99-60, the most lopsided EuroLeague Women championship score in decades. The club, along with the players it brought on to compete for a title, certainly achieved that goal, and in doing so have set a new standard for international women’s basketball. It’s clear that Fenerbahçe is now the place to play, and we can only dream of what its roster will look like next season.
Schio wins bronze on Šventoraitė’s incredible buzzer-beater
The third-place game, meanwhile, was a much closer affair, as Schio narrowly defeated Praha 59-56 in an action-packed thriller to win its first-ever EuroLeague Women bronze medal.
Schio, which gave Fenerbahçe as close of a game as one could have expected in the Final Four before running out of steam in the final minutes, came out with a similar intensity against Praha, forcing several turnovers and keeping Praha’s offense from finishing many of its shots in the paint — an area in which the Czech club was extremely effective during the EuroLeague Women regular season. Fatigue was also a factor for Praha, as acknowledged by the club’s head coach Natália Hejková during a halftime interview, and the pace of the game largely favored Schio, which led by double digits at halftime.
That lead wouldn’t last, though, and in typical Praha fashion, the hosting club turned up the defense and the physicality to make things close down the stretch. Alyssa Thomas — who was recently named 2023 EuroLeague Women Defensive Player of the Year — and Brionna Jones, despite not having their trademark high-efficiency offense, bullied their opponents on the glass, contributing heavily to a 52-32 total rebounding edge and transition offense that tied the game with under a minute remaining.
What followed could be described as both dramatic and controversial. A coast-to-coast Marina Mabrey layup in traffic gave Schio a two-point lead, which Teja Oblak promptly erased with a fadeaway jumpshot with five seconds remaining. On the ensuing Schio inbound, Valériane Vukosavljević came up with what looked like a steal, but collided with Marina Mabrey, losing the ball to Eglė Šventoraitė. Šventoraitė fired up a 3-pointer and banked it in as the buzzer sounded, elating her teammates while Praha stood in stunned silence.
Should Mabrey, who scored a game-high 17 points for Schio, have been called for a foul on the play? It would have sent Vukosavljević to the line for free throws, so either way, the call (or no-call) would likely have been game-deciding. It’s something that will certainly be discussed by fans on both sides as the initial shock wears off.
Regardless, Schio’s effort throughout the game was commendable. To overcome the massive rebounding disparity, the Italian club held Praha to 32.8 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, both figures significant in holding down an offense that had been one of the best in the competition. Schio also got significantly more from its bench than Praha (17 points to 5) and hit three more 3-pointers (7 to 4), ultimately mustering just enough offense to leave Prague with a hard-earned bronze medal.