Israel trounces Latvia to close on EuroBasket qualification

Team still got its fate in its own hands after thrashing Latvia 92-56 in Riga.

311_eurobasket (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel has still got its fate in its own hands after thrashing Latvia 92-56 in Riga on Monday night and improving to a 4-2 record in EuroBasket 2011 qualification.
After suffering a disappointing home defeat to Italy last week, the national team knew only a victory would do on Monday.
With Montenegro leading Group A with a 5-1 record, and only the two best second place teams advancing automatically to the European Championships, Israel was under pressure ahead of the game in Latvia and it showed at the start.
A poor first five minutes saw the blue-and-while trail by eight points early in the encounter, but Israel came right back and effectively clinched the win by halftime.
Arik Shivek’s men outscored the hosts 36-11 in the second period and cruised to a comfortable victory, which also did the side’s point differential a world of good.
Israel hosts Finland in its next qualifier on Thursday, and will be a firm favorite to claim another one-sided victory and perhaps even clinch a 10th straight participation in the European Championships should results in the other qualifying groups go its way.
Regardless, the national team remains in the hunt for first position in the group, with a road game against Montenegro still to come next Sunday.
Guy Pnini led five Israel players in double-figures on Monday, scoring 14 points and adding six rebounds. Omri Casspi and David Bluthenthal contributed 12 points each, with Yuval Naimi and Lior Eliyahu both scoring 11 points for the team, which hit 28 of 46 shots from two-point range (60.8%).
“We took good shots at the start of the game, but the players were under a lot of pressure and they didn’t go in,” Shivek said.
“The key to our win was our defensive playing and the fact that we lowered their scoring percentage significantly.”
Andrejs Selakovs led Latvia with 14 points, but the hosts scored just 30.8 percent from the field, including five of 27 from beyond the arc.
Israel got off to a slow start yet again on Monday, with Rihards Kuksiks giving Lativa an early 9-2 lead.
Another basket by Latvia’s top scorer extended the gap to eight points (13-5) and the blue-and-white looked lost.
However, Shivek wasted no time in making changes to the team and Israel soon seized control of the encounter thanks to some superb defending.
After allowing 15 points in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the game, the national team held the hosts to a mere 11 points in the remainder of the first half and all but secured the win by the break.
A 16-0 run gave Israel a 23-15 advantage and there was no stopping the visitors after that. The hosts were stifled time and again and Shivek’s men ran riot.
A great spin move by Yaniv Green opened a double-digit margin (27-17) and Eliyahu’s lay-up three-and-a-half minutes later increased the lead to 40-20.
The gap continued to grow until the interval, with Casspi’s dunk to cap the first half ending a sensational second period and giving Israel an unassailable 54-26 advantage.
The blue-and-white’s team effort in the first half was epitomized by the fact that four players scored eight points or more, but none reached double-digits.
The second half was pure garbage time, with Israel looking to maintain its big margin and Latvia only hoping matters didn’t get much worse.
Both teams got their wish and Israel completed a significant victory, which puts the team back on course to book its place in next summer’s European Championships.