In front of a jam packed gym, the Israeli national team had everyone at the edge of their seat for nearly 40 minutes. Israel trailed 54-57 with under 8 minutes to play, but one Shay Doron along with great team defense were able to switch up the momentum and carry the team to a tough and oh so sweet win, 75-69 over Great Britain. Israel finished 1st in the group and punched a ticket to EuroBasket 2009 in Latvia.
Shay Doron: "As usual it wasn't simple but we did it like winners, from 1st place".
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Israel 75 - Great Britain 69
History was made. Israel proved today that it is the best team in the group with a very tough win over a mighty stubborn Great Britain team and clinched a place in the European Championships to be held in Latvia in June 2009. Above all today stood out Shay Doron with a career high 28 points, she would not be denied and carried the entire team with her all the way to Latvia.
"I'm thrilled. We worked so hard in the last two and a half months, everyone played their hearts out. This is how we won the entire campaign and it was no different today. This win wasn't about basketball, it was all about character, and it's the best feeling in the world. There was so much pressure and nothing flowed, we knew it would be hard but not that hard, it was amazing" said at the end team captain Liad Suez Karni. "We had some very difficult minutes today, but in the 4th quarter the girls stepped up, playing heroic defense and despite everything we came through with the win", said Eli Rabi.
The only player who functioned on offense today through out the game was Shay Doron who scored 18 of her 28 after halftime, 3 shy of what she needed to become the tournament's leading scorer. "We were very tired mentally from the loss at Ukraine, as usual it wasn't simple but we did it like winners, from 1st place", she said at the end. "It was just character. We were done mentally, without our fans we wouldn't have won today. Today we showed how much heart we have".
Those who expected an easy game against the last team in the bracket quickly realized this isn't the case. GB played a great game and gave Israel all they could handle. After 1 the visitors even led, Israel closed the half well to build a 9-point lead but everything flipped around in the 3rd quarter which Israel finished down by 1. In the 4th Doron got much needed help from Liron Cohen (9 pts in the 4th) and Merav Dori and together they helped Israel regain control. A huge 3 from Dori and a drive by Cohen put Israel up 65-61 with 3 minutes to play but the game was far from over. GB tied the score immediately at 65, Laine Selwyn grabbed a huge offensive rebound which got to Dori who instantly released a jumper, and 1 to make it 71-64 with 1:40 left. GB got it back down to 4 but Selwyn with a big steal with 30 seconds left forced the Brits to send Israel to the line. The final seconds ticked away and it was celebration time.
Israel again started out slow on offense and had only two field goals in nearly 7 minutes. On the other side GB generated points in transition as Megan Moody got off to a great start, they led 15-8 after 6 minutes. Shay Doron with a big three injected some momentum and with the offense came the defense, Doron found Dori for an easy layup to cut the lead to 14-17 after 1.
Suez Karni from the line and Katia Abramzon with a tough shot gave Israel the lead at 18-17, but on the other end McKay answered with a put back to cause yet another lead change. Israel tried to score inside without much success, but Doron with a save on defense and a big three on the other end kept Israel in it. Butler scored on back to back plays to give her team a 23 – 21 edge, but Suez Karni hit a three to spark a 9 – 0 local run that finally opened a lead. She added a steal and two free throws, Selwyn scored a tough shot and on a dish from Cohen to make it 30 – 23, two to play in the half. The Brits cut it to five but Doron made two defensive plays and Cohen capped off the half with her usual 1 on 1 driving layup, 34 – 25.
Israel had a horrible 3rd quarter, which they lost 15 – 23. Israel had no less than six turnovers in the first five minutes, and the set offense was again stuck. Abramzon had two nice plays to make it 40 – 30, but the visitors answered with a 10 – 0 run to tie the game. Israel's defense fed off the offense as usual and that had to change, as Rabi called a timeout and put Doron back after she recovered from a hit to the stomach. Israel didn’t have much else going on offense besides Doron, especially after Abramzon sat down with two fouls. Doron broke the tie with a baseline jumper and added a big three to keep Israel in the game, and they trailed 49 – 50 after three.
GB increased their lead with a three, and you could really see the pressure Israel was under. Cohen woke up momentarily with a driving layup and a three, but the Brits still held a 57 – 54 lead. Doron scored from the line and Dori nailed a huge three, and along with another drive by Cohen put Israel up 65 – 61, three to go. GB called a timeout, regrouped, and quickly tied it all up again. The jam packed arena was having trouble breathing but Israel again made the big plays down the stretch, with Dori's three point play and no-holds-bar defense, and secured what should be rightfully theirs after an unbelievable campaign – the #1 spot and a ticket to Lativa.
Shay Doron 28 pts
Liron Cohen 12 pts
Liad Suez Karni & Katia Abramzon 9 pts each
Merav Dori 8 pts
Laine Selwyn 7 pts, 6 ast
Katia Levitzky 2 pts
Photos: Motti Klinger