(photo credit: AP)
Israel will look to improve to 2-0 in Group C of the EuroBasket 2007 last chance tournament on Saturday night and build on its victory against Belgium in its first game of the campaign.
The national team, which defeated Denmark 72-60 on Wednesday, hosts Ukraine at the Nokia Arena on Saturday and will be confident of claiming its second straight victory.
The Ukrainians were routed 70-45 by Belgium on Wednesday and will be guided in Israel by temporary coach Valentin Brestnev after coach Vitaly Lebedintsev resigned from his position after the home loss to the Belgians.
Israel was far from impressive in its victory against Denmark and coach Tzvika Sherf admitted that the team has got to quickly improve its play if it's to reach the European Championships via the additional qualifying round.
"We played poorly in the first half, but played better in the second," Sherf said. "I'm glad we won, but we now need to concentrate on the game against Ukraine. We must be patient and let time take its course. We need to continue winning and the level of our play will gradually improve.
"We still have plenty of room for improvement, but we don't have much time and we can't drop our heads. We need to win our three home games."
Ukraine was outscored 21-2 over the final eight and a half minutes against Belgium and will be keen to regain some of its lost pride in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
The team was led by Artem Butskyy's 13 points, with center Serhiy Lishchuk scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Oleksiy Pecherov, who was drafted by Washington Wizards with the 18th pick in 2006, did not play on Wednesday.
"The win against Denmark was very important," center Yaniv Green said. "It's always vital to start a campaign with a victory, it gives a lot you confidence. We had difficulties to find our rhythm in the beginning of the game, but we looked much better in the second half."
Lior Eliyahu, who scored 14 points in Denmark, said: "This victory has done a lot of good for the entire team. It's our first win of the campaign and our first away victory."
Israel faces Belgium at the Nokia Arena in its third additional qualifying game on August 15 and will also host Denmark three days later. The team will play its final two games away from home, visiting Ukraine and Belgium on August 22 and August 25, respectively.
Israel will need 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 the European basketball championships to be held in Spain at the beginning of September.
"We need to focus on the game against Ukraine because it's of crucial importance," forward Guy Pnini said. It was obvious that we would be rusty after so long without playing a game. We struggled slightly in the beginning, but the important thing is that we returned home with a victory."
"I still don't know who will coach Ukraine, but that's not my problem," Sherf said. "I'm calling on all Israel fans to come to the Nokia Arena on Saturday and Wednesday and push the side. This isn't my own personal team, this is everybody's team."