Israel's women's National Team got a must-win victory over Bulgaria tonight, 76 – 64, in their 2nd game of the last-chance tournament thanks to a great 2nd half with good team basketball on both ends. Laine Selwyn with a mistake free game and Liron Cohen with important baskets led the way.
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Israel 76 – Bulgaria 64
Israel's full stats
The 2007 version of the National Team looks good. They still made sure to uphold the tradition that says nothing comes easy, and in a 3-team bracket where every point could make a world of difference, it was a 12 point win that felt like a nerve wrecking thriller.
A 10 – 2 start, and then we're down four. Open an eight point lead in the 4th, feel like a big spread could happen, and it's tied again. Israel was up just three with 4:30 to play, before the big run that won the game and kept the future open.
The fear that the famous Israeli aggressiveness may have been waived in favor of the up-coming talent quickly turned out to be unjustified, and Israel also featured a real inside game with four posts who provided 28 points, 15 rebounds, 8 steals and three blocks. Israel pressed quite a bit in the 2nd half and the top scorers were the starting backcourt, but Laine Selwyn made sure to credit the posts. "We couldn't do it without them, that's for sure. They take a lot of the attention off us and when the ball goes inside and they kick it out, it makes it easier", said Selwyn who finished an excellent night with 16 points on 70% shooting and great defense.
"We knew this game was very important for us. We really wanted to make a statement cause the game in Hungary, we really played close with them in the first half and it's a shame that those 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter… we came out flat and it just unfortunate for us", said the point guard of Ramla and the NT. "They're a good team, we don’t underestimate Hungary, they're a great team. I'm glad we came out well today, this team beat Hungary by 14, it just shows you that any given day, anything can happen. We know that if we play together and play well, we can be just this good and better".
Israel started strong with good defense, active hands in the passing lanes and a lot of gambles that turned into fast breaks. Liron Cohen and Selwyn shared the ball in a text book break, Katia Levitsky finished twice on the break, and Israel took a 10 – 2 lead. Following a timeout Bulgaria regrouped and started getting good shots. A triple sub along with Bulgaria's switch to zone stopped the Israeli momentum a bit, and they hit two threes to tie it at 15 after 1.
Lack of concentration on both ends allowed Bulgaria two easy baskets and they went up 21 – 17. Other than Shay Doron's two assists inside to Jeniffer Fleischer and Katia Abramzon, Israel was struggling with the zone as the mid range jumpers wouldn't fall. The Bulgarians increased the lead with a three, 28 – 23. Selwyn cut it to one with a mid range jumper and a fast break layup, but Tomova with a three point play and Branzova with a typical long jumper made it 35 – 29, 1:20 to go in the half. Selwyn answered with an 'And 1' of her own to make it 32 – 35 at the half.
Israel shot well from inside the arc but just 1 for 9 from downtown, and no less than 10 players saw action in the first half. Selwyn led the way with 9 points, and Levisky added six.
Liron Cohen tied the game with a three to start the 2nd half, and Israel switched to a zone that caused long rebounds and was able to run. Cohen with a drive and Meirav Dori with a high post jumper scored in transition, and Selwyn took Dimitrova to the hole for the three point play, 42 – 39, three minutes into the 3rd. Doron went to the basket for another 3-point play, and Suez made one as well to make it a six point game. Eli Rabi put Shiran Zairy in for Suez and pressed full court, and Dori beat the shot clock with a three to make it 53 – 46. Zairy made a silly foul in the final seconds and the visitors got within 48 – 53 going into the 4th.
Israel kept a short lineup to start the 4th, continued to fight on the boards, and increased the lead. Doron hit a runner in transition and found Fleischer under the basket to make it 58 – 50. The Bulgarians wouldn't go away, took advantage of three local turnovers and tied it at 60 with two quick threes. Rabi put the posts back in and Levitsky hit a big three to break the tie with 4:30 to go and sparked a 10 – 0 run that made it 70 – 60 with two minutes to play.
Israel executed down the stretch in the half-court game as well, passed inside and made it 74 – 61 with a minute to go. The locals knew every point matters and Cohen set the final score with an acrobatic layup, 76 – 64.
Shay Doron, who missed her first few shots, got in the game when she started using her quick first step to get by people and stopped settling for jumpers. It was her first home game in a National Team uniform, and her first game in Israel since the Maccabia. "It was fun, great crowd", she said after the game. "It's always fun to play at home but the most important thing is winning. We can beat any team if we play like this, we have to generate the easy baskets. On defense we played together, covered for each other, that's how it should be and that's how you win. We're a young team and we have to learn from every second on the court".
"The fact we can press with posts on the floor, that's a good sign", Eli Rabi referred to the team's new but very familiar style. "After the last week I was a little down but I'm happy the girls stepped up. We're a very young and inexperienced team but we have a lot of talent. We'll be good but we have to win along the way. It's a good win because Bulgaria beat Hungary, and Hungary is an outstanding team".
As for the scenarios, spread calculations and the rest of the hobbies we reporters practice during such tournaments, Rabi preferred to focus on the most important thing. "I don't look into all that as much. We have to beat Hungary at home or everything falls apart. After that, we'll start thinking about it".
Laine Selwyn 16 pts, 6 rebs
Liron Cohen 15 pts, 7 ast
Liad Suez Karni & Katia Levitsky 9 pts each
Jennifer Fleischer & Meirav Dori 8 pts each
Shay Doron 7 pts
Chen Nusel & Katia Abramzon 2 pts each
Levitsky & Selwyn
Photo: Motti Klinger