Israel went down to Italy 88-68 on day 2 of the 2023 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket on Friday afternoon. With this result, Israel will need to defeat the Czech Republic by at least 12 points on Sunday to reach Monday’s the play-in to Slovenia.
Yarden Garzon, and Alyssa Baron again got Israel on the board early with multiple baskets in the first few minutes of the game. Daniel Raber added a basket before the first time out, Israel trailing 17-12 a little over four minutes into the game with Mariella Santucci alone scoring 7 points in the first few minutes. However, the Blue & White were already in foul trouble at that point, which restricted their defense for the remainder of the quarter. Simms brought it back to a 3-point margin when she made two shots from the line after the timeout. Eden Rotberg also showed her leadership with actions, winning an inspirational loose-ball and drawing a foul, following which Raber drove to the basket for a foul, Italy also found itself with five team fouls, as the teams went to the line for a combined 23 times during a physical first 10 minutes. Israeli fans were happy to see Lior Garzon enter the game late in the first quarter, with her first minutes of the tournament since her foot injury during the practice games. However, she wasn’t able to hit the scoreboard and Italy was up 30-18 after 10 minutes.
Jennie Simms scored Israel’s first points of the quarter after two minutes, a lay-up and 1, followed by an assist to Alex Cohen on the next play to get Israel to within 9 points at 32-23 and the fans in the crowd were on their feet cheering. However, Italy went on a 7-0 run to stretch the margin out to a 16-point margin, 39-23. The teams the traded baskets through to the end of the half, Yarden Garzon and Rotberg scoring key baskets to keep Israel within reach, but Italy went into the halftime break ahead 47-31.
Cohen scored a 3-pointer and Simms made two free throws to get Israel back to within 11 points after the break, but Italy then went on a 9-0 run to stretch the lead out to 20 points, forcing Israeli coach Sharon Drucker to call a timeout to try to stop the Italians’ momentum. What he said worked, as Baron scored a 3-pointer on the first possession out of the timeout, but the Italians responded immediately with back-to-back buckets to Olbis Andre and Cecilia Zandalasini stretched the lead out to more than 20 points. Cohen provided an inspiring drive to the basket for an and-1 play and on the next possession Italy ran out of time on the shot clock, reward for the defensive pressure applied by the Blue & White. The teams again traded baskets to the end of the third quarter and Italy went into the final quarter leading 67-45.
With the writing already on the wall, it would have been easy for Israel to give up. However, they continued to fight and not only did Israel avoid the margin blowing out to the same extent as it did against Belgium, but Israel won the last quarter 23-21, ultimately going down by 20 points.
Cohen (15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists), Yarden Garzon (15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals) and Simms (13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal) led the scoring for Israel. Zandalasini led all scorers with 33 points to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. Laura Spreafico (16 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block) and Olbis Andre (10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal) also reached double-figures for Italy.
“The offense didn’t work and we had a tough time,” Drucker said after the game. “I told the team at halftime and I felt that we were just missing one big rush. We were playing well and we played better than the result would indicate. They fought and battled with everything they had, they did the maximum and I can’t ask them for anything else. I haven’t seen anything like #9, Cecilia Zandalasini she just hit her 3s. Italy is a very tough team.”
“I have to give credit to Italy they did a great job,” Rotberg said. “We had a tough time on defense, but that’s part of sports and we saw an improvement from the Belgium game which is a positive. We made sure to come into this game with the right energy.”
“It was important to get the win because we lost yesterday,” Zandalasini said. “We came onto the court very aggressive. It was a win or go home game so we couldn’t make mistakes. I am very proud of my teammates and team. It was just my mindset and I had some turnovers in the last few minutes of the game and I feel like I disappointed my teammates so it was very important for me to help us get the win.”
“It was a better game than yesterday and we did a great job,” Andre said. “We kept our intensity from the beginning until the end to the game. It was tough to play with the Israeli fans and we knew the crowd would be amazing for them. For women’s basketball, it’s great to play like this and I hope that we will see that everywhere.”
In Group B’s earlier game, Belgium had another huge victory, this time against the Czech Republic, winning 84-41, with superstar Emma Meesseman again dominating with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, 6 steals and a block.
Both of today’s Group A’s games will be played later in the day, with Greece takes on Latvia (18:15 IDT / 11:15 EDT) and Spain face Montenegro (20:45 IDT / 13:45 EDT).
Tomorrow is a rest day in the Holy Land, with Israel taking on the Czech Republic in their final Group game on Sunday at 18:00 IDT / 11:00 EDT. The other group games in Israel on Sunday are between Motenegro and Latvia (12:15 IDT / 5:15 EDT), Belgium and Italy (15:15 IDT / 8:15 EDT) and Spain and Greece (20:45 IDT / 13:45 EDT).