israel basketball 298.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel is on the brink of advancing to the European Championship additional qualifying tournament in Menorca, Spain, after defeating Ukraine 68-63 on Wednesday night and maintaining its perfect record in the EuroBasket 2007 last-chance tournament.
The national team visits Belgium on Saturday night and will retain first position and advance to the next stage as long as it doesn't lose by more than 19 points.
The Belgians defeated Denmark 71-61 behind Christophe Beghin's 23 points on Wednesday, but the team's 85-66 loss to Israel will likely prove crucial on Saturday night.
The winner of the three-team contest in Menorca, which all the teams are fighting to reach, will advance to the European Championships that begin in Spain on September 3.
Yotam Halperin led the team once more on Wednesday night, scoring 19 points in 37 minutes on court. Despite scoring just eight of his 22 shots from the field, Meir Tapiro (16 points and eight rebounds) kept Israel ahead in the clutch, scoring his side's last six points of the game.
The concern that Israel would not manage to win without Lior Eliyahu, who remained in Israel for his brother's wedding, proved to unfounded thanks to Ido Kozikaro's and Yaniv Green's excellent contributions. Kozikaro scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Green added nine points and 11 rebounds in a dominating performance by Israel's big men.
"It wasn't a pretty basketball game," coach Tzvika Sherf said after the game. "The important thing, however, is that we won the game. Ido Kozikaro was superb and made up for Lior Eliyahu's absence. We still have a long way to go before we book our place in the championships."
"We did what we had to do and I'm glad we won," assistant coach Arik Shiback said. "Belgium is a much better team than Ukraine and Denmark. We're entering the game with an advantage, but we should nevertheless try and win the encounter."
The lead exchanged hands numerous times at the start of the game until Tapiro's floater with just under two minutes remaining in the period gave Israel a small cushion (16-11).
Israel struggled to extend its three point first quarter lead (18-15) at the start of the second period, with the hosts remaining within touching distance until the break.
Halperin scored the blue-and-white's first three-pointer of the game three minutes into the quarter (25-21) and made sure Israel was ahead at the break (36-34) with his 12th point of the half.
The Maccabi Tel Aviv guard extended the visitors lead further with another basket at the start of the third period (42-36), but Serhiy Lishchuk's (24 points and eight rebounds) three brought Ukraine back into the game. A Halperin three gave Israel an eight point lead (49-41), its biggest of the game, however, once more the hosts clawed their way back.
Igor Loktionov's basket from beyond the arc with less than a minute remaining in the period put the hosts in front (51-50) for the first time in more than 20 minutes.
Kozikaro ensured, however, that Israel entered the final 10 minutes of the game with the lead with two successful free throws at the end of the third quarter.
Loktionov's three at the start of the fourth period tied the game at 54-54, but an 8-1 run would clinch the win for the visitors.
Four straight points for Green and two more by Kozikaro from an offensive rebound midway through the quarter, gave Israel what proved to be an unassailable 62-55 lead.
Tapiro's late heroics made sure Israel maintained its advantage and kept the side's dream of qualification to the European Championships alive.