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Israel remained undefeated in the EuroBasket 2007 last chance tournament on Saturday night, beating the Ukraine 81-73 at the Nokia Arena.
The national team, which defeated Denmark 72-60 in its first game of the campaign last Wednesday, will host Belgium this Wednesday and will be seeking its third consecutive win on its way to the European Championships.
Israel needs to finish first in group play in order to qualify for a three-team competition in Madrid later in August.
The winner of the three-team contest will advance to EuroBasket 2007 to be held in Spain at the beginning of September.
Despite winning for a second straight time the national team is still far from near the level it will need to play at if it's to reach the European Championships.
For a second sucessive game the team struggled against an inferior opponent and only won thanks to a decisive late surge. The team will have to play better against the strong Belgians on Wednesday, as anything short of a win will most likely end the sides hopes of qualification.
Israel was led by Lior Eliyahu, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, with Yotam Halperin adding 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Yaniv Green successfully fought the big Ukrainians under the baskets, scoring 16 points and taking seven rebounds. Oleksandr Kolchenko led Ukraine with 30 points, with half of them coming from the three point range.
An early Israel run (6-0) left no doubt about the host's intentions, but it wasn't until the final five minutes of the first half that they seized control of the game.
Kolchenko's three pointer cooled the host's enthusiasm three-and-a-half minutes into the game (6-4), but Halperin's basket from beyond the arc midway through the period extended Israel's lead to 15-6.
The Ukrainians, who lost 70-45 to Belgium in their first game of the campaign on Wednesday, refused to give up and were down just four points at the end of the quarter (17-13).
Israel struggled on the offensive side of the ball late in the period, scoring just two points in the final five minutes of the quarter.
The visitors would tighten their defense once more in the third quarter and ate away at the Israel lead. Vyacheslav Kravtsov's dunk midway through the period cut the lead to two points (52-50) and Kolchenko's lay-up with one minute remaining in the quarter completed the team's comeback and gave the Ukrainians their first lead of the game (56-54).
Two free-throws by Dror Hajaj at the end of the third period put the Israeli team ahead once more (58-57) and a fourth quarter run by the blue-and-white would finally kill off the game. A three point move by Eliyahu capped a 10-0 run to start the period and gave the hosts a double digit advantage once more (68-57).
The final minutes were no more than garbage time, allowing coach Tzvika Sherf to fine tune his team ahead of Wednesday night.