The UCU Lady Canons already hold the record for most National Basketball League (NBL) titles, 7, with the first one coming in 2008. Yet, even with that rich history and pedigree, they are hungry for the eighth crown.
However, on Wednesday evening at the MTN arena in Lugogo, they lost game one of this year’s final 64-70 to JKL Ladies, in what was a close encounter. JKL, on the other hand, are hoping for their first NBL title, and appear determined to dethrone UCU, who, if they are to stop JKL taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven-series, must show better focus tonight, than they did in game one.
For most basketball patrons, that watched the opening game of these series, it appeared like a case of UCU losing the game, than JKL winning it. You see, with one minute left on the game, UCU were leading 64-63, and in possession of the ball, an opportunity to extend their lead.
But UCU conspired to make a number of reckless decisions, which made them lose possession under the least of pressure. In the process, they got punished by JKL with two lay-up baskets and one masterly executed three point shot by one of UCU’s former stars, Ritah Imanishimwe.
“Clearly, we self-destructed,” Angella Lokwamweri, UCU’s small forward said after the game.
“We can only blame ourselves for literally giving the game away, yet we were in control of it until those last few seconds. Now we have to come back strong and win game two, which I believe we will,” Lokwamweri added.
That said, when UCU return for game two this evening, one would imagine, they will be under some sort of pressure, to keep this championship alive. Otherwise, going two games down may prove impossible for them to bounce back from.
But Lokwamweri dismisses the argument that they come into game two under pressure.
“We are three-time defending champions. JKL have never won this title before. So, they are the ones who have to prove themselves. That should bring anxiety into their game, and therefore pressure,” Lokwamweri said.
There is probably some ounce of truth in Lokwamweri’s reasoning. UCU suffered two major injuries to their guards, Rhona Nagitta and Esther Akwapo, while competing for honours at the Fiba/Africa Zone Five Championship early this month in Dar es Salaam. Essentially, they were depleted in terms of squad depth.
Yet, JKL, who are a richly assembled team, did not play like a team with the numbers advantage. JKL’s coordination and rhythm was not so good. They did not look like the team, which beat UCU twice in regular season, and only lost one league game during that time.
Based on that, Jamila Nansikombi, JKL’s shooting guard was candid enough to say that they must improve on their play, because although they won, the performance was not good. “We were not aggressive enough and we made so many turnovers”, Nansikombi said.
JKL’s coach Henry Malinga added, that throughout the game, they rushed their offence and got punished for poor shot selection and did not do a good job rebounding both on offence and defence.
“Going forward, we just need to improve on our defending and ball movement,” said Malinga.
Despite that, her teammate Flavia Okecho added that it is always important to win game one, because it is a huge boost to confidence. Attempting to fight from behind is without a doubt mentally challenging. Now, as Okecho sees it, they have three more wins to work for, yet UCU need four.
It should be noted, that it is going to be a huge test to UCU’s resolve and character, winning a fourth successive league title. But Emmanuel Kiguyi, the UCU assistant coach told The Observer that it is such tough moments that they spend the whole season preparing for.
And even though his team is clearly weakened by the absence of Akwapo and Nagitta, Kiguyi said that cannot be an excuse for failure.
“The players I have available are good enough. They are in position to peg JKL back and do the job.”
Kiguyi added that his lead point-guard, Rosine Mycomiza was also just returning from an injury lay-off. So, the lack of match practice, could show in the many mistakes she made while in possession, yet she is normally the team’s setter of plays.
Mycomiza will have to step up tonight like all the others, because it is a huge response that Kiguyi expects from them, if indeed, they are to bounce back, to eventually win a record eighth championship.