Ashdod and Ramle ready for Israel Basketball Women’s League supremacy

Apr 10, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

The finals series of the Israeli Women’s Premier Basketball League, the Athena Winner League, will kick off today at 17:00 IDT (10:00 EDT), with Maccabi Bnot Ashdod hosting Elitzur Ramla in the first game of the best of five series.

Each team comes into the game on the back of a 3-0 sweep in the semifinals, Ashdod defeating A.S. Ramat Hasharon and Ramla defeating Maccabi Ramat Gan.

While Ashdod got the better of Ramla in their first matchup of the season back in December, a 70-68 victory at home, Ramla have won their past two battles, including an 89-72 victory (aided by a 54-32 first half) less than a month ago. In that game, Ramla’s Elina Babkina led all scorers with 26 points and 7 assists, Shakira Austin had a double-double with 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Alysha Clark had 21 points and 9 rebounds. (Not only that, but Israeli captain, Eden Rotberg – who returned from injury in the last game against Ramat Hasharon – was out injured.)

Shakira Austin – Photo Credit: Ben Pask

Ashdod will be looking to stop those three again in this series, as they all had strong performances in the semifinals against Ramat Gan: Babkina averaged 13.33 points and 9 assists; Austin averaged a double-double with 21.67 points and 13.67 rebounds; and Clark averaged 18 points.

In the semifinals, Ramla looked like a well-oiled team working together, focused on the goal of winning the competition.

“Feels great, we have the right momentum coming in,” Austin said after the game 3 win against Ramat Gan. “We knew that they were going to come in and fight every game. I think we’re going to carry this on to the next series.”

“When you’re in the playoffs, you have to look at it one game at a time,” Clark said. “I’m happy that we were able to come out focused for three games straight and just be able to close out the series at 3-0. Going forward, same thing in the finals. On Monday, that’s it – game one is the most important game. Just take it step by step.”

Alysha Clark – Photo Credit: Ben Pask

For Ashdod, their strongest performers in the last fixture against Ramla were Natisha Hiedeman (22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists), Liz Cambage (19 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (10 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists). These players were also important in their series win over Ramat Hasharon: Heidman averaged 14.67 points, 5.67 rebounds and 7.33 assists; Cambage averaged 14.33 points and 7.67 rebounds; and Walker-Kimbrough averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

Ashdod coach, Le’coe Willingham, is aware of the challenge ahead of her team – she had this to say of the upcoming series after the deciding win against Ramat Hasharon: “They’re a very good team – a quality team – so I think at the end of the day, it comes down to the little things. Both teams know what they have to do, it’s the little things that’s going to make the difference in this series.”

Liz Cambage passing to Walker-Kimbrough – Photo Credit: Ben Pask

Cambage, who joined the team last month to step in for the injured Kalani Brown, seems to be enjoying her basketball experience in Israel. Although Cambage did not come to Israel at her peak – “Coach Le’coe called me and said that we need a post player to come fill in and I said, ‘Girlie, I have not run up and down a court since August, but I’ll give you what I can!’” – she has given the team a big presence under the basket. Cambage will surely be crucial if Ashdod is to win the championship, especially in the matchup against the dominant Austin.

“We’re learning and we’re growing,” Cambage said of the team. “I just got here a few weeks ago, so it’s not easy to fill a great player like Kalani Brown’s shoes after she played such a fantastic season. So I’m just here to set big screens for Tori [Walker-Kimbrough] and Ti [Natisha Hiedeman]. They’re such great girls, I love playing with them, and I just want to use my big body to keep getting them open.”

Game 2 is scheduled to take place on Thursday April 13 in Ramla, game 3 on Thursday April 20 in Ashdod, then if required, game 4 on Sunday April 23 in Ramla and game 5 on Thursday April 27 in Ashdod.

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