basketball macedonia 88.
(photo credit: AP)
The Israel basketball team returned home from Bulgaria late Sunday night after playing three warm-up games for the EuroBasket 2007 last-chance tournament over the weekend. The national team defeated Macedonia 77-76 on Sunday, winning for a second straight night after losing its first warm-up game on Friday.
"We had an intense training camp and played three very good games," coach Tzvika Sherf said on Sunday. "I know that in Israel people tend to underestimate such teams as Bulgaria and Macedonia, but we don't take any opponent lightly. This is the level we will encounter in the last-chance tournament and I'm happy we played against these sides. We have two-and-a-half weeks of work ahead of us and I hope we will be ready for the task on hand."
After leading 43-37 at the break, Israel allowed Macedonia to open a five point lead (52-47) in the third quarter with a 15-2 run. Israel, however, replayed with a run of its own (15-4), and maintained the lead until the end of the game. Guy Pnini scored 11 points for the team, with Amit Tamir and Yotam Halperin scoring 10 points each.
On Saturday, the team led throughout its game against Bulgaria, winning eventually 89-82. Israel was ahead 46-36 at the break and held a small lead until the end of the game. Halperin scored 19 points, with Meir Tapiro scoring 13 points and passing 10 assists.
A day earlier Israel suffered defeat in its first warm-up game, losing 72-65 to Bulgaria in Sofia.
The national team held a slender lead throughout the first three quarters of the game, but a 10-0 Bulgarian run in the final period gave the hosts a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Tapiro led the team with 12 points, with Jeron Roberts adding 10 points.
"We're still no where near the form we should be in," coach Tzvika Sherf said. "We've only been training for 13 days and our team play still needs plenty of improvement."
Israel visits Denmark in its first game of the last-chance tournament on August 8 and will play five more qualifiers in the following two weeks. The team needs to finish first in its group, which also includes Ukraine and Belgium, to qualify for a three-team competition in Madrid later in August.
The winner of a three-team contest in Madrid will advance to the European basketball championships to be held in Spain at the beginning of September.