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Sports News of Sunday, 26 September 2021

Source: www.premiumtimesng.com

FIBA AfroBasket: D’Tigress eye historic third consecutive title against Mali

D'Tigress team members D'Tigress team members

Nigeria’s senior women national basketball team, D’Tigress, will seek to complete a hat trick of consecutive titles on Sunday night when they face Mali in the final of the 2021 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket.

Both sides faced off in the third-place playoff of the Women’s AfroBasket 2011 in Bamako with Mali overpowering Nigeria 71-62.

That nonetheless, Nigeria have beaten Mali in their last two Women’s AfroBasket meetings, in 2017 and 2019.

After earlier triumphs in 2003 and 2005, D’Tigress had more than a decade of drought before conquering the continent again in 2017 and 2019.

Now Coach Otis Hughley’s Ladies are on the cusp of becoming only the second team since Senegal in the 70s to win three consecutive African titles.

D’Tigress captain Adaora Elonu who made her debut at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2015 in Yaounde, Cameroon, will lead out the Nigerian ladies against Mali on Sunday.

This time though, she will not be chasing a debut outing but she and her teammates are locked in for a third consecutive win of the African cup.

D’Tigress won the 2017 trophy in Bamako, beating Mali and Senegal along the line to begin the count of their unbeaten run as they have stayed unbeaten in every African competition since 2017.

Mali lost the final game at home way back in 2009 and since then they had not gone past the semi-finals until Friday.

The 2007 African champions defeated hosts Cameroon 52-51 to get the chance to attempt to dethrone Nigeria.

Coach Otis Hughley is leading D’Tigress in a back-to-back effort having taken over from coach Sam Vincent in 2018. He says he feels quite humbled getting to the final again.

“I don’t want to use the word proud as you have introduced here. I would rather say that I am really humbled by what these ladies have been able to achieve. It is impressive when you see the great effort they make on and off the court to stay at this level.

“It is an honour playing another final game,” Hughley said in Yaounde on Friday.

And he has said in the past, the focus is his team doing all they are supposed to do to win the game. Whatever the other team is working on counts for less.

Amy Okonkwo was clearly the best player on the court in the Nigeria-Senegal semi-final contest. She is more than glad to be making her first Afrobasket final match.

Amy said of the final match, “I am happy to be a part of the team this time. It is one thing to watch these women play big games on the court but it is something very special to be a part of the team playing the final match on the court. I am excited and honoured too.”

From the available FIBA statistics, Mali are the third-highest scoring side averaging 75.8 points and they top the rebounding chart with 54.5 boards per game.

The precision and fluency with which the Nigerian ladies have got their job done in the last seven days could see them overpower the Malian Ladies.

But Mali remains a quality side with the likes of Mariam Coulibaly who is one of the contenders for the MVP.

Also, Nigeria’s aggressive defending could pose a serious worry to Mali as D’Tigress’ average 5.8 blocks – the second-best ratio in the tournament.

In all, many believe the hunger and drive for a third straight title should give D’Tigress the edge in Sunday’s final at the Palais Polyvalent des Sports, Yaounde.