28/12/2023
Africa
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Has Nigeria become untouchable by winning four Women’s AfroBasket in a row? 

 

ABIDJAN (Cote d'Ivoire) - In the lead up to the 2023 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket, defending champions Nigeria's D'Tigresses were facing numerous challenges with the appointment of Rena Wakama as head coach. 

Wakama, who stepped into the big shoes of erstwhile coach Otis Hughley who oversaw a glorious phase of D’Tigress, had an herculean task of retaining the title, barely a month after her appointment. 

The reigning African champions had conquered the continent consecutively in 2017, 2019 and 2021 but internal Federation issues marred the selection of the 2023 squad, putting doubts on their ability to achieve a new feat.

After 3 titles in Africa and a Quarter-Final place at the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, things started going south when the team withdrew from all Basketball competitions, including the global competition, a step taken by the then Nigeria Government, after two warring camps proclaimed victory in two elections to designate the NBBF president.

However, Nigeria made history in so many ways in Kigali where the 2023 Women's AfroBasket championship was held.

Besides winning their fourth African title (84-74 against Senegal) in a row, Nigeria closed the Championship's campaign unbeaten (5-0), which saw Wakama's charges extend their continental winning streak to 24-0, dating back to the 2015 Women's AfroBasket Third-Place game in Yaounde. 

With this feat, coach Wakama became the first female head coach to win a Women's AfroBasket title.

When it seemed dark for the D’Tigress, they rose up to the occasion and delivered a fourth title, becoming the second team to win four in a row. The other country to achieve that is Senegal between 1974 and 1981.

This left the continent questioning whether the West Africans are beatable, considering they haven't lost a match since going down 71-70 to hosts Cameroon in the Semi-Finals of the 2015 Women's AfroBasket. 

"Determination," Rena Wakama responded when asked about the key that factor for Nigeria's 2023 Women's AfroBasket title.

She continued: "I told my girls keep swinging. Senegal is a phenomenal team.. They are big.. I told my team if they do the last punch they will probably win this game.

"Against Mozambique, we were down by 10 or 12 points. I looked into their eyes, and they told me: “Coach, we're not going to lose this game..”.. And they came back to win. That was the defining moment for me. It has been a long year for me. I asked God for a sign, and this trophy was the biggest of them all."

Nigeria's 2023's title-winning squad had a mix of youth and experience. From the squad that had done duty in winning the last two titles, only four, Sarah Ogoke, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, Amy Okonkwo and Elizabeth Balogun, were in Rwanda. 

In the final against Senegal in Rwanda, three of their five starting players finished with double digits to their credits. 

Balogun sank 15 points, Ogoke added 13 points, and Okonkwo contributed 14 points. Also making this list are Ifunaya Okoro, who led Nigeria in scoring with 16 points, while Munjanatu Musa hit a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds to contribute to the D’Tigresses’ victory.

Senegal were going for their 12th record extending title and were on a 3-2 series as they had suffered losses against Uganda and Mali, but won against Egypt, Cameroon and Mali, again, to make it to the Final.

Nigeria on the other hand had kept a perfect record with victories over DR Congo, Egypt, Mozambique and Rwanda. 

The Final was a remake of the 2019 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket that was hosted by Senegal. Nigeria won their second straight title after seeing off the hosts 60-55 in a packed Dakar Arena.

They would later meet again, this time at the 2021 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket Semi-Finals in Yaounde, Cameroon, and Nigeria would once again walk away with flawless victory 73-63.

They had a strong 19-10 start in the 2023 Final and led 43-31 going to the halftime break, holding on for the win. This victory stamps Nigeria's authority in the continent.

Next year, the two sides are set to meet in an Olympic qualifying tourney set for Belgium where they play the hosts and United States for the three available slots to Paris 2024. 

FIBA