African Champions Nigeria in their 2nd appearance at the FIBAWWC made it 3 wins on a bounce and an unprecedented trip to the last 8. The Cinderella team of the tournament will have their hands full against world number one and double defending champions United States.
The US are making it to the quarterfinals for the 11th straight tournament – the last time USA didn’t make the semi final was in 1975, when the old World Championship was a 12 team tournament.
Looking at how well the Nigerians have fought to get to this point, the Americans would be careful not to underrate a team who is 33 places below them especially after the reigning Afrobasket champions have pulled off wins against Top 20 ranked teams 7th Turkey , 15th Argentina and 20th Greece on their way here.
Interesting to know also is that American Forward Nneka Ogwumike is born to Nigerian parents and will like Astou Ndour did for Spain against Senegal, she will be up against here sisters.
HEAD TO HEAD
Nigeria and the USA have met only once in competitive international women Basketball. With Team USA winning 79-46 in Brasil 2006. Legendary Mfon Udoka was on the team.
KEYS TO WIN
Team Defence: This is still Nigeria’s biggest strength in the competition, Nigeria’s offence went to sleep in the 4th quarter against Greece. But a tenacious team effort on the defence hinged on the quick feet and hands of their guards getting steals and efficient rebounding on both ends of the floor by the Nigerians.
Get to the Free Throwline: Nigeria has been very efficient from the free throw line. Two big free throws from Elo Edeferioka with seconds left on the clock was the clincher in the quarterfinals qualifiers against Greece, shooting 100% on her first trip to the charity strip at that time of the game says a lot about the confidence of coach Otis Hughley’s girls from the line. Seven of them shoot over 66%, with 3 not attempting any free throws in the tournament and the least shooting 50%
Athleticism and Inside Scoring: With All-Star front court of Breanna Stewart (16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds), A’ja Wilson (15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds) Tina Charles (13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds) Brittany Griner (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Nneka Ogwumike (10.4 points, 4 rebounds)
Bench: The depth of experience and combination of youth in the American squad is second to none in Tenerife. Every player on coach Staley’s roster have had a run on the hardwood including 6’8 center Brittany Griner who clocked 13.4 minutes in last group game against Latvia after sitting out the first 2 games due to a slight knock in training. The depth and versatility of Team USA would be difficult for Coach Otis to manage.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nigeria: Evelyn Akhator, Promise Amukamara, Ezinne Kalu
USA: Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles.
Written by Femi Adefeso. Twitter: @IncredibleFemi