The D’Tigress are the reigning African champions and the team has an abundance of players at the disposal of the team administrators.
If there was any year there was a sense of an incredible run of Nigeria’s national women’s basketball team at the World Cup, it had to be this year, and that has everything to do with to facts.
In terms of history at global tournaments though, Nigeria perhaps ranks as the lowest team in the group, an argument supported by her 34th position on the world ranking (lowest in the group).
Nigeria qualified for the FIBA Women’s World Cup by powering to the 2017 Women’s Afrobasket title while going 8-0. D’Tigress utterly dominated their first four opponents—Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt and Guinea, setting up a final group showdown with reigning champions and equally unbeaten Senegal, a game that went down to the wire in a close 58-54 win for eventual champions Nigeria.
Nigeria overpowered Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals and endured arguably their toughest game in the tournament—a semifinal clash with hosts Mali. D’Tigress led by 10 points going into the fourth quarter and had to endure a spirited comeback from the hosts to win 48-47.
The final with Senegal was a rematch of the group phase, but unlike the close game in the first round, Nigeria overcame a six-point deficit in the first quarter and were never really within touching distance afterwards, resulting in a 65-48 win over the former champions and claiming their third African title.
Head coach of the team, Otis Hughley is the man tasked with the responsible of spearheading a Nigerian conquest at the World Cup, but he barely took over the team less than two months to the tournament, replacing his fellow American Sam Vincent.
Hughley was an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA after spending seven years coaching at High School level. In 2015, Hughley led the Chinese Taipei national team to fourth place finish at the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship.
Although Nigeria has a plethora of players, Evelyn Akhator is expected to continue her fine show which saw her lead the team with 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. She was drafted third overall in the 2017 WNBA Draft by the Dallas Wings, but after her rookie season which saw her feature off the bench in a limited role, she could not land a spot in the final roster and has since made a move to Besiktas in Turkey.
This will be Nigeria’s only second appearance at the World Cup and the first since their bottom place finish at their debut appearance in 2006 in Brazil where they lost all games, and in terms of pedigree, Nigeria may well be considered among the international community as the least likely to advance from the group.
It becomes the responsibility of Head Coach Hughley and his ladies to ensure that narrative does not in fact become reality. Advancing out of the group should in fact go down as a huge achievement for a country making only its third appearance at the global stage.
Written by Ayotunde Onabolu. Twitter @AyotundeOnabolu