Following on from a historic victory against the fifth best team in the world, France, on Friday, Nigeria have sealed their place in this year’s FIBA Women’s World Cup to be staged in Australia with a 73-69 win over continental rivals Mali on Sunday.
In what was a repeat of the 2021 Women’s Afrobasket final, Mali were in the ascendancy in the first quarter, but Nigeria took control in the second quarter, drew level and pulled away, accumulating a 21-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter – 67-46. However, Mali refused to go down without a fight. They went on an 11-0 scoring run, including three consecutive threes to reduce the deficit to 67-57, and then 71-69 – only two points – in the last minute of the game. Nigeria survived the scare and held on for the win that ultimately confirmed their second consecutive World Cup appearance and third overall, after 2006 and 2018, denying Mali a chance to make their first appearance.
Nigeria head coach, Otis Hughley Jr. believes fatigue is the reason why his team almost capitulated.
“I think fatigue set in and only having one point guard made it tough against a team in survival mode,” he said. Otis Hughley Jr.
“But seriously, hats off to Mali and their undying effort. Credit to their coach who did such an amazing job and Mali almost flipped the script.”
“But our girls took the punch and we’re off to Sydney – we’re just happy about that,” he added.
Nigeria arrived in Belgrade unprepared and shorthanded, amid a cloud of uncertainty, and could only manage two training sessions before their game against China.
Promise Amukamara, the only natural point guard in the team, in the absence of key playmaker Ezinne Kalu, was one of the standout players for Nigeria at the tournament and among the highlights of her performance is a brilliant buzzer beater against France. She contributed 10 points in each of Nigeria’s games.
“This tournament was very special for us. We battled through a lot of adversity. I had to step up and take on the point guard and leader role. I am not very vocal, so that was a challenge for me.
“I think this tournament was the best one for us, because we had to put absolutely everything together with no training camp or preparation. We really believed in ourselves.”
She continued: “Now we just have to get back healthy and the sky is the limit. We have already shocked a lot of the world. We won’t be just turning up (in Sydney), we will have a different mindset and will be reaching for the quarterfinals.”
Nigeria were the surprise package at the last World Cup where they became the first African side to reach the quarterfinals. They will carry the hopes of a whole continent in Sydney.
The three teams in Group C officially confirmed their places in the 12-team tournament after securing one win each in Osaka. This means Bosnia and Herzegovina will be making their World Cup debut and they celebrated this achievement with an unforgettable 87-82 victory over Japan. Jonquel Jones was the top performer in the game as she produced an incredible 36 points and 23 rebounds.
In Group A, Serbia and Korea finished 2nd and 3rd respectively to join World Cup hosts, Australia, while China, Nigeria and France progressed from Group B.
I am a young and vibrant sports journalist from Ghana, a member of the Sports Writers’ Association of Ghana(SWAG), and working with Sports Preview Ghana and sports reporting outfit poised to bring all the latest and trending sports news around the globe.