Elitzur Ramla defeated Maccabi Bnot Ashdod in Ashdod Monday 96-85 to take a 1-0 series lead in the finals series of the Athena Winner League – the Israeli Women’s Premier Basketball League.
Shakira Austin had an MVP performance for Ramla, with 39 points on 60.9% from the floor, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks. She had plenty of assistance from her teammates, including Elina Babkina (16 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists), Alysha Clark (15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists) and Eden Rotberg (14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists).
Ashdod was led by Liz Cambage (20 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block), Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (19 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists), Natisha Hiedeman (12 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists), Alex Cohen (11 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists) and Drew Edelman (8 points and 10 rebounds).
It was a game in which Ramla jumped out in front at the start and never looked like relinquishing the lead. Although the teams traded baskets early in the first quarter, Ramla led by as many as 17 points towards the end of the first quarter, with a Walker-Kimbrough 3 from behind the arc bringing it back to a 14-point margin after 10 minutes, Ramla leading 33-19.
While Ashdod fought back in the second quarter, which included a 12-point run to get to within 7 points at 43-36, Ramla was able to regroup and maintain the 14-point lead at the end of the half (55-41), a lead which they also took into the final quarter (69-55).
When Cambage committed her 5th personal foul with Ramla leading 82-64 with a little under 5 minutes to go in the game, the game was all but over. While Ashdod never gave up – and reduced the margin back to 10 points with a minute and a half remaining – it was too little too late, Ramla running out 11-point winners.
“We had 26 assists, on offense that’s amazing to me,” Ramla coach Shira Haelion said after the game. “It’s evidence of our team game, there are lots of players involved. The 86 points that were scored against us, I’m very very dissatisfied and that’s what I said to the players now. This series will be so long, we have a lot of respect for Ashdod. They were in first place the whole season and we need to lift the level and be even better, because it’s not enough.”
Ramla managed to stay out of foul trouble during the game, only committing a total of 9 fouls over the whole 40 minutes compared to Ashdod’s 19 (9 of them drawn by Austin). Both teams also shot well from 3, Ramla shooting 14 of 21 (57.1%) and Ashdod shooting 12 of 30 (40%) to facilitate the high-scoring encounter.
The battle between Austin and Cambage looks like it will be the one to watch throughout this series. Austin starred with a performance index rating of 52 – more than double the next best on the court (Babkina with 25). Although Cambage got into foul trouble and left the game early, she showed that she is not just a big body setting screens and presenting under the basket, scoring 80% from the field, including a perfect 2 of 2 from behind the arc.
While there were 7 players who played more than 35 minutes during the game, it would be amiss not to mention Clark (who shot 4 of 8 from 3) and Walker-Kimbrough (5 of 9 from 3), who each played the full 40 minutes.
Game 2 will be in Ramla this Thursday night at 19:00 IDT (12:00 EDT).