LIOR ELIYAHU 370.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Less than 48 hours after claiming what has been heralded by some as one of the
greatest victories ever by the national team, Israel hosts Montenegro at Nokia
Arena on Thursday night in another encounter crucial to its hopes of qualifying
for EuroBasket 2013.
After an erratic start to its 10-game qualifying
campaign, Israel showed on Tuesday why the current roster is widely regarded as
the most talented the blue-and-white has had in a generation when it dominated
perennial powerhouse Serbia at Nokia on the way to a resounding 89-76
The win was Israel’s third straight after beginning the campaign
with two consecutive defeats and took the blue-and-white up to second place in
the standings at the halfway mark of the qualifying tournament.
two teams from the six qualifying groups and the four best third-placed teams
will make up the 16 sides who will join Spain, France, Russia, FYR of Macedonia,
Lithuania, Greece, Great Britain and hosts Slovenia in EuroBasket
However, with Montenegro currently holding a comfortable cushion at
the top of Group A with a 5-0 record and both Serbia and Estonia currently tied
with Israel at 3-2, the blue-and-white still has plenty of work to do to secure
its progress to the European Championships for an 11th straight
“Serbia is one of the top five teams in Europe, but we were superb
at both ends of the floor,” said Israel coach Arik Shivek.
[Eliyahu], Omri [Casspi] and Yogev [Ohayon] carried the team and that is their
“After losing our first two games we decided to make some changes
and they have proven to be effective.
“The intensity of this tournament
is so great that one week ago we were dejected in Iceland and now we are
celebrating in Nokia.”
Israel lost 75-69 at Montenegro in its group
opener two weeks ago, but the players will draw encouragement from the fact that
they held an eight-point gap two minutes into the final frame in Podgorica
before squandering a golden opportunity to claim a crucial road win.
Montenegrins have gone on to win all their games since, including away at Serbia
thanks to a mid-court buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Suad Sehovic leads
Montenegro in points (16.2 ppg) and rebounds (6.4 rpg), but Luka Pavicevic’s
team includes three more players who average more than 10 points per game,
complicating Israel’s mission on Thursday.
Israel also has four players
who average double figures, led by Omri Casspi (17.8 ppg) and Lior Eliyahu (15.8
Casspi is ranked among the top 20 in seven different statistical
categories, with his accuracy from three-point range (56.5%) perhaps his most
impressive stat of all.
The Israel team as a whole has shot well in its
first five qualifiers, with the blue-and-white leading all 31 teams in
field-goal percentage (54.5%) and Casspi, Eliyahu and Alex Tyus all being ranked
among the top six players in that category, with Tyus leading all players with
an outstanding 70.7 percent (29 of 41).
“It was great to play in Yad
Eliyahu after two years away. It was fun to come home,” Casspi said.
felt good and we felt good as a team. We are facing a tough game on
Thursday, but we will be ready.”