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Israel held on to its narrow chance of getting an automatic berth for EuroBasket 2007 on Wednesday night, after its 83-70 win over Macedonia in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Despite the victory, the likelihood of Israel qualifying outright from the qualification round is still extremely small. The team needs to beat Portugal on Saturday night and for Bosnia-Herzegovina to defeat Macedonia. The catch is that Israel will have to win by 31 more points than the margin of victory between the Bosnians and Macedonia.
Even though the team will almost definitely need to take part in the last chance tournament next summer, Israel showed on Wednesday that it is still a proud team.
The blue-and-white looked like a broken side after losing to Bosnia by 22 points on Saturday. However, against Macedonia, Israel finally showed how well it can play.
The team opened a 14-point lead in the first quarter and continued to dominate the game for the entire 40 minutes.
"There's no doubt we played well today," Israel coach Tzvika Sherf said after the game. "The players began the game very aggressively and played with confidence and will."
Israel was led by Yotam Halperin, who scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds. "We were excellent in the first three quarters and we played very well on defense," he said after the game.
Amit Tamir scored 13 points and had seven rebounds, while Jamie Arnold and Matan Naor each scored 13 points and grabbed five boards. Yaniv Green was outstanding for the team on both sides of the court, scoring 12 points and taking 14 rebounds.
Israel began the game with a 5-0 run and showed early signs of breaking out from recent poor form. The Macedonians fought back and an Aleksander Dimitrovski three pointer tied the score at 14-14. Halperin hit two consecutive shots from beyond the arc that started an 18-4 run, which gave Israel a 32-18 lead at the end of the first quarter and set the tempo for the rest of the game.
A 6-0 run at the start of the second period gave Israel a 20-point lead and the team looked to be on its way to a comfortable win. Both teams had difficulty scoring in large parts of the period and the half ended with a 47-28 Israel advantage.
The Macedonians hit the ground running at the start of the third quarter and Vrbica Stefanov's three pointer capped a 12-0 run.
Halperin ended the Macedonians' run with a three-point shot of his own and Israel surged forward. A 16-0 run by the blue-and-white gave the team a 63-40 lead midway through the period and the game was as good as won. The team maintained its advantage until the end of the quarter, leading 69-50.
Israel and Macedonia found baskets hard to come by at the start of the fourth quarter with the teams combining for nine points in the first five minutes of the period.
A 13-2 run by the visitors in the last minutes of the period, which cut Israel's lead to 11 points, came to an end when Naor hit a three pointer to cap Israel's scoring.
Women get first win
The national women's basketball team won its first game in its European championship qualification campaign.
Israel defeated Ukraine 75-69 Wednesday night, also in Sofia, in its third EuroBasket Women 2007 qualifying game.
Meirav Dori hit a three-pointer to give the "hosts" a four-point lead with 57 seconds remaining, and then sank a pair of free throws to seal the victory.
Israel, Ukraine and Slovenia are tied in the second through fourth places at 1-2 in Group B, while Turkey (3-0) remained undefeated with a 87-61 victory over Slovenia.