By Bamidele Boluwaji:
Despite the leadership tussle in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the national senior women’s basketball team popularly known as D’Tigress still worked hard under the guidance of American Coach Sam Vincent to reclaim the FIBA African Women’s Championship title they lost few years back after beating Senegal 65-48 points in the final of the tournament on Sunday in Bamako, Mali.
The women also ensured Nigeria picked one of the two tickets that will see D’Tigress featuring at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain. It was a feat the players never thought could come their way easily with the presence of Senegal, host nation Mali and Angola in the tournament. But after their victory against Mali in the semi-finals, it became clear that they had all it takes to go all the way.
Losing their first test match in Lagos after the America-based players were merged with their Nigeria-based counterparts, it became a matter of priority to Coach Sam Vincent, to work harder and improve the technical and physical performance of the team having guided Nigeria to win the 2003 and 2005 editions respectively.
Vincent’s confidence in the team remained intact, but in his usual way, he was ready to take advice from any positive minded persons and in that process, he was ready for all the assistance the Musa Kida-led board was ready to offer him.
VIncent’s knowledge of African basketball was also seen as one of the reasons the technical department of the board employed him to lead the team.
Before his return, according to Vincent himself, he had been working with many African players in the United States and so coming to play on the African soil again was no big deal to him.
The second test game he played before departing for the tournament in Mali also brought out a lot of improvement in the team which also helped the players to renew the spirit of ‘we can do it’.
D’Tigress opened the tournament against Mozambique who had played against Nigeria at the Championship and All Africa Games level. And the victory recorded in the game gave D’Tigress the confidence that starting well would boost their confidence.
Though they could not hit 100th points In the game, but their 80-69 points win was good enough to help them go into the second game with their shoulders high.
The second game against Republic of Congo was quite better than the first game as they dominated the entire quarters without allowing the Congolese to have a minute to operate.
Winning the game with 84-47 points boosted the team further, while they went the extra miles to beat Egypt 106-72 points In their third game.
The game against Guinea, having qualified for the quarter-final, was like a walkover, but D’Tigeess still went ahead to ensure they win it with 106-33 points to record their fourth straight victory in the tournament.
Playing Senegal In their last game of the preliminary round was not In anyway difficult for the players whose total focus was on the quarter-finals game.
Cote D’Ivoire who played In Group A were easily overpowered in the quarter-finals by 98-43 points to scale through to the semi-finals where they defeated Mali 48-47 points to qualify for the 2018 FIBA World Cup.
The semi-final game would have been a nightmare for the Nigerians as Mali mounted serious pressure aiming to stop D’Tigress from reaching the final.
The last 2 minutes in the final quarter of the game was a nervy affair for the Nigerian ladies, but their experience put the Malians on the run with series of time out calls which helped them to win the game with just a point margin,,and booked a ticket for the final.
Playing Senegal again was not In any way scary as the coach Vincent’s side capitalised on their experience from their first clash to win the match by 65-48 points and reclaimed the title.
D’TIGRESS’ ROAD TO THE TITLE
Nigeria vs Mozambique 80-69
Nigeria vs Congo 84-47
Nigeria vs Egypt 106-72
Nigeria vs Guinea 106-33
Nigeria vs Senegal 58-54
Nigeria vs Cote D’Ivoire 98-43
Nigeria vs Mali 48-47
Nigeria vs Senegal 65-48