(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel’s hopes of reaching the European Championships for a 10th straight time
suffered a significant blow on Tuesday after an 81-76 defeat to Italy at the
The national team entered the game in high spirits after an
important victory over Montenegro on Saturday, but trailed throughout Tuesday’s
encounter and seriously complicated its situation in Group A of EuroBasket 2011
Montenegro claimed a 90-84 victory at Latvia on Tuesday to
take sole possession of first place with a 4-1 record, with Israel in second
position one game back.
The winners of the three qualifying groups as
well as the two best second place teams will automatically qualify for the
European Championships, meaning Israel will now have to either win its three
remaining games, including away at Montenegro, to finish top of the group or
hope for favors from the other groups to finish among the best
“This is an unpleasant moment in the campaign,” said Israel
coach Arik Shivek, whose team was outrebounded for the fourth time in five
games. “This defeat sets us back to step one. It is a shame we lost, but we have
to admit that they controlled the game from start to finish.
shouldn’t have lost at home, but now we will need to balance it out with another
road win. We have already proven we are a strong team and I hope we will prove
it again next week.”
Omri Casspi led Israel once more, scoring 20 points
and grabbing 10 rebounds, with Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin adding 19 and 15
Especially disappointing was the national team’s
Israel entered the game averaging 50 percent, the
highest among the 15 teams in the qualifiers, but shot just six of 20 on Tuesday
“We are all disappointed,” Halperin said. “We didn’t play well in
the first half and we paid for it. We need to rebound from this defeat with a
win in Latvia. The next two games are a must for us.”
Latvia next Monday before hosting Finland three days later and wrapping up its
campaign on the road at Montenegro.
Andrea Bargnani scored a game-high 26
points for Italy, which won despite scoring 24 percent (7 of 29) from beyond the
Marco Belinelli added 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists for
the visitors, who shot an impressive 24 of 34 from two-point range.
opened the game with an 8-0 run, with Bargnani scoring at will.
had no answer for the Toronto Raptors star and his 10 first period points gave
the visitors a 22-17 lead after 10 minutes.
After a quiet first quarter,
Casspi scored six straight points to start the second frame, bringing the
blue-andwhite within two points (25-23).
Tal Burstein’s lay-up seconds
later tied the score, but just when it seemed Israel would move into the lead,
the visitors struck back, a recurring occurrence throughout the
Belinelli’s basket opened a sevenpoint cushion (34-27) midway
through the period, only for Israel to close within a single point (36-35) once
more just over a minute later after a Burstein three.
Israel would score
just two points in the final three minutes of the first half, however, and Italy
had a promising 48- 39 gap at the break.
Matters would only get worse for
the hosts at the start of the third quarter, with a Bargnani dunk after an
offensive rebound increasing the margin to 14 points (55-41).
Mordente three extended the Italians lead to 69-54, but Israel continued to hang
around with 10 minutes to play after scoring the final six points of the quarter
A Burstein jumper three minutes into the final quarter brought
Israel within seven points (72-65), but the hosts struggled to come much
Shivek’s men stopped Italy’s offense late in the game, only to
miss wideopen shots and turn over the ball at the other end.
In the final
minutes of the encounter, Israel finally managed to close within striking
distance, with Eliyahu’s basket with 1:26 to play bringing the team within one
However, after another offensive board, Bargnani put
Italy safely ahead yet again and Israel fell to a costly defeat.