Israel basketball 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will look to build on its stunning victory over Serbia when it faces Croatia in its first game of the second round of the EuroBasket championships in Madrid on Friday night.
The national team defeated Serbia 87-83 on Wednesday and sneaked into the second round of the tournament despite losing its first two games of the championships to Greece and Russia, respectively.
The top three teams from Group A - Russia, Greece and Israel - join up with the top three from Group B - Croatia, Spain and Portugal - to battle for four spots in the quarterfinals.
The teams carry over their records against each other, but not against the fourth place team in their original group, meaning Israel begins the stage with a 0-2 record.
Israel, which faces Portugal on Sunday and Spain on Tuesday in its final second round game, will likely need to win at least two of its games to book its place in the quarterfinals of the competition.
"Croatia is a very good team, with players of a very high level," Israel coach Tzvika Sherf said on Thursday. "They have plenty of guards, superb three-point shooters. A team that beats Spain is no pushover."
Croatia starts the second round with a 2-0 record after defeating host and world champion Spain on Wednesday to finish top of its preliminary group. Guard Marko Tomas buried a three-pointer with 3.1 seconds remaining on Wednesday, giving his team an 85-84 victory over Spain in Seville.
Croatia began the championships with a 85-77 defeat to Latvia, but 24 hours later thrashed Portugal by 22 points and after beating the hosts is ideally placed to advance to the last eight.
Coach Jasmin Repesa has had to manage in the championships without Maccabi Tel Aviv center Nikola Vujcic and Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Giricek, who both chose to pull out. Dalibor Bagaric and Andrija Zizic also declined to take part in the tournament, making Repesa's achievement in the first week of the event even more impressive.
"I'm really happy that we qualified for the next round with four points, that's a big advantage for us," said Repesa. "But, at the same time, we have to stay quiet and take one game at a time because we've seen many surprises already in these championships."
Guard Marko Popovic has led the Croatians in scoring in the championships, averaging 14.7 points per game. Tomas (8.7 ppg), Damir Markota (8.3 ppg), Zoran Planinic (8.3 ppg) and Roko Ukic (8 ppg) give Croatia a deep and versatile squad that insures Repesa is never short of fire-power.
Barcelona center Mario Kasun has averaged 12 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and will be a constant menace for Israel center Yaniv Green. Green has been a revelation in these championships, scoring 14.3 points and nine rebounds per game. Yotam Halperin leads Israel's scorers with 17 ppg, but Green was the main reason the side reached the second round. The center scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Israel's win over Serbia and despite being outnumbered and outsized by the opponents won the lion's share of the battles in the paint.
The surprise package against Serbia was Guy Pnini, who besides scoring 11 points also slowed down sharpshooter Milan Gurovic with suffocating defense. "Not many people believed we could advance, but we showed great character and made it happen," said Pnini. "We are especially happy for the people back home in Israel who support us all the time. We always believed we could make it, but it was tough because Serbia is a good team. Now we have three more games, and we don't plan to lose them. We'll give our best against any team and try to make it into the top
On TV: Israel vs Croatia (live at 8:00 p.m. on channel 10)