After four phases in Abuja, Kaduna, Asaba and Ibadan, The final phase of the 13th edition of the Zenith Bank Women’s Basketball League tipped off on Monday 24th of July at the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium, Surulere with the last eight teams contesting for the prestigious title.
Placed in two groups, defending champions, First Bank were drawn alongside Customs, First Deepwater and GT 2000 in Group A, based on their standings at the end of the fourth phase, while Dolphins, IGP Queens, Delta Force and Plateau Rocks were drawn in Group B.
A thrilling week of basketball began with a keenly contested clash between First Deepwater and GT 2000 with the former getting a 73-69 win. Delta Force also went on to clinch a narrow 69-66 win over Plateau Rocks, Dolphins prevailed 65-64 over IGP Queens while First Bank emphatically beat Customs 115-35.
Day 2 was equally as thrilling with IGP Queens beating Plateau Rocks 59-37, Customs bouncing back by beating GT 2000 46-40, First Bank beating First Deepwater 91-74 and Dolphins defeating Delta Force 85-67.
Day 3 saw the eight teams battle for semi-final spots. Defending champions, First Bank continued their smooth sailing by defeating GT 2000 83-40, Dolphins beat Plateau Rocks 69-64, IGP Queens narrowly beat Delta Force 61-60 and First Deepwater also getting a slim 51-50 win over Customs. With the results, it was First Bank vs IGP Queens and Dolphins vs First Deepwater to contest for final spots on Day 4.
The competition continued on Thursday as Defending Champions, First Bank showed that they were favourites to clinch the title by convincingly beating Customs 93-64 to reach the final while First Deepwater shocked and shook the fans and bookmakers by upsetting 2015 Champions, Dolphins with a 70-57 win in the second semi-final game. First Deepwater coach, Shola Shomala expressed her delight in her team’s win saying, “I am very impressed with the performance of my players and I expect more from them in the final.” She continued by saying, “We have to double our effort in the final on Saturday. It has been a tough journey making it to the final of this year’s tournament but I thank God and our supporters for all the girls have achieved.”
First Bank coach, Peter Ahmedu also praised Deepwater ahead of the final saying, “Deepwater is a strong opposition. They have strong players and the battle is not won until we finish the match on Saturday. I am happy we are in the final but it is not over yet because our target is to win.”
Reaching the final guarantees both teams of qualification for the FIBA Africa Club Championship for Women.
With an ‘All Firsts’ Final in view, Friday was set out for the All Star activities. It was an entertaining one as players were placed in two teams, Team Zenith (Team A) and Team NBBF (Team B).
For Team A, Chioma Udeaja (First Bank), Bintu Bhadmus (Dolphins), Gloria Umeh (Plateau Rocks), Murja Musa (GT 2000), Vanessa Oduah (First Deepwater), Mistura Subair (First Deepwater), Amaka Okoh (IGP Queens), Linet Obonyo (Dolphins), Esther Igben (Delta Force), Upe Atosu (First Bank), Queen Ulabo (Dolphins) and Joy Ebiegha (GT 2000) were selected while Grace Okonkwo (IGP Queens), Ojoma Ewaoche (Customs), Kasham Emmanuel (First Deepwater), Nkem Akaraiwe (First Bank), Nkechi Akashili (First Bank), Christiana Isaac (IGP Queens), Ebere Okeke (Customs), Chidinma Nwakama (First Bank), Tina Odion (First Bank), Rashida Abdulganiyu (Customs) and Success Agbotain (Delta Force) were selected for Team B.
After an entertaining game, Team A defeated Team B 82-70. In other activities, Chidinma Nwakama of First Bank won the three points contest with 12 points while Christiana Isaac of IGP Queens won the skills challenge in 40 seconds.
After Classification games, Customs finished in 8th place, GT 2000 finished in 7th place, Delta Force settled for 6th place and Plateau Rocks finished 5th. The third place playoff between IGP Queens and Dolphins was billed for Saturday just before the final showdown between First Bank and First Deepwater.
The long awaited final day arrived, with the third place playoff paving the way for the final game. Spectators were given a very thrilling and nerve wracking game as Dolphins squandered a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter, giving IGP Queens a narrow 65-63 win to finish third. Finally, the battle of the firsts began and First Bank dominated from the start. At the end of the first quarter First Bank led First Deepwater by 22-11. The experience of the seven-time Champions was further confirmed as they finished the second quarter ahead again, 45-22. In the third quarter, First Deepwater seemed to narrow the gap but could not quite match First Bank’s domination as it ended 65-47. The final quarter was not any different, First Bank finished with a convincing 84-53 victory to claim their 8th Zenith Bank Women’s Basketball League title, becoming back-to-back Champions.
First Deepwater coach, Shola Shomala after the match admitted, “The most experienced team won. For my young girls to have gotten to this level, it’s a big thing for them. It’s a stepping stone for them to go ahead. Before the start of the game, I told the players that we have nothing to lose and so much to gain.”
The winning coach, Peter Ahmedu said, “The victory means a lot and is encouraging for me and the players.” On grabbing a continental ticket, “The girls have never disappointed us. We are hoping to go on a training tour in preparation for the continental championship. We came third last year and we look forward to reaching the final this time around.”
For finishing third place, IGP Queens received medals, a trophy and prize money of N1,000,000. Runners up, First Deepwater received medals, a trophy and N1,200,000. The Champions, First Bank received medals, a trophy and a N1,500,000.
For her impressive performance, Magdalene Uteko of the winning team, First Bank was named the Most Valuable Player of the final. Tokunbo Olaosebikan of Dolphins was given the award of Most 3 points of the tournament and Bintu Badhmus of Dolphins was given the award for the highest number of rebounds in the tournament.
Upe Atosu (First Bank), Tina Odoin (First Bank), Kasham Emmanuel (First Deepwater), Grace Okonkwo (IGP Queens) and Magdelene Uteko (First Bank) emerged the best five players, Coach Shola Shomala (First Deepwater) was named the best coach of the tournament and Plateau Rocks were given the fair play award.