Defending champions D’Tigress of Nigeria secured their spot in the final of the 2023 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket tournament by overcoming hosts Rwanda, on Thursday, August 3.

The semifinal game was attended by President Paul Kagame, first daughter Ange Kagame, and other fans in full force. Nigeria proved to be a dominant force throughout the match, ultimately defeating Rwanda 79-48.

Nigeria’s solid performance in the first half set the tone for the game, outscoring Rwanda 22-6 in the first quarter and 22-12 in the second quarter. Although Rwanda showed resilience in the third quarter, dropping 17 points to Nigeria’s 14, the defending champions regained control in the last quarter, securing a comfortable lead and their place in the final.

Top performers for Rwanda included Hope Butera, who scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and contributed 1 steal and an assist. Destiney Promise Philoxy and Janai Crooms Robertson also displayed impressive performances, with Philoxy scoring 21 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists, and Robertson netting 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists.

For Nigeria, key players such as Amy Okonkwo, who contributed 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists, and Olaoluwatomi Oluwayemisi Taiwo, with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist, were instrumental. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah also made significant contributions with 10 points, 9 rebounds, and an assist.

In a post-game press conference, Nigeria coach Rena Wakama, said:

“I didn’t think we would reach finals. It’s only God, if you would’ve told me a month ago I’d be here, I probably would’ve said no.”

As a female coach, Wakama highlighted the unique connection she shares with her players, saying:

“When they see somebody that looks like them, probably not too far off in terms of age, it’s easy for me to get them to buy in.

“I was in their shoes eight years ago, so I’m able to give them some insight from a player or coach perspective, and sometimes I still hop on the court and show them how it is done. I think they trust me because I’ve been there, and I’m able to empower them in that way.”

Nigeria’s center, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who was part of the victorious team in 2021, said:

“I feel really honored. The team that won two years ago was a phenomenal team, but I think this group can also fill those shoes, especially under the leadership of coach Rena. We can grab this win and make our mark in the tournament once again.”

On the other side, Rwanda’s coach, Cheikh Sarr, said:

“I know the level of our game, and I know the level of our opponent today. Nigeria are the defending champs, but the loss was on us. We lost our focus and made mistakes in defense, allowing them to take advantage and score many 3-point shots. I’ll give credit to Nigeria; they’re a good team, mature, and they shared the ball. We struggled with the bench in making substitutions, and that’s how we lost the game.”

Rwanda’s point guard, Philoxy, who was the top-performing player for the team in the tournament, reflecting on the team’s loss and her aspirations for the championship, said:

“I don’t know what the future holds for me. You know, we just lost, and I really wanted to win this championship. I live by loyalty, and he (her coach) was the first one who gave me an opportunity to play overseas for the first time. So, we’ll see.”

Mali, on the other hand, faced defeat against Senegal in a thrilling semifinal clash. The final score settled at 75-65 in favor of Senegal.

Cierra Janay Dillard shone for Senegal with an impressive performance, dropping 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Mali’s star player, Sika Kone, scored 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists.

The encounter between Senegal and Mali was a true rollercoaster, given their previous match on July 30, during the group phase. Mali emerged victorious with a 72-49 win over Senegal.

In this semifinal, both teams displayed tenacity and skill, with Senegal claiming victory in the 1st and 3rd quarters, while Mali dominated in the 2nd and last quarter.

Senegal’s journey to the final was remarkable, especially considering their initial struggles in Group C where they secured the last spot. They turned their fortunes around with a three-game unbeaten streak. They conquered Egypt, defeated Cameroon, and finally overcame Mali to earn their place in the final showdown against Nigeria.

The final showdown between Nigeria and Senegal is set to take place on Saturday, August 5, at 6 pm. Earlier in the day, at 2:30 pm, Rwanda will clash with Mali in the third-place game.

Source: The Newtimes

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