February 13, (THEWILL) – D’Tigress, Nigeria’s national women’s basketball team, advanced to the 2022 FIBA World Cup after a tough win over Mali in Belgrade on Sunday.
Despite having a 20-point advantage at the start of the fourth quarter, the Malians resiliently fought to gain the upper hand and, indeed, closed to within two points of their Nigerian opponents in the final seconds of a 73-69 victory.
Coach Otis Hughley started Promise Amukamara, Adaora Elonu, Atonye Nyingifa, Oderah Chidom, and Victoria Macaulay against Mali, whom D’Tigress defeated in the 2021 AfroBasket final, to complete their three-peat of continental dominance.
Amukamara scored the opening point on a free throw after Assetou Traore was fouled, and she also scored the second. The more physically-aggressive Malians, who understood they needed to beat their Nigerian rivals in order to qualify, responded through Touty Gandega.
The first quarter was a dingdong affair, with the lead changing hands several times, but the Malians closed the quarter with a two-point lead, 22-20 to signal their determination to not lose to D’Tigress second time.
Amy Okonkwo, who was fouled by Kamite Elisabeth Dabou, hit two free throws to tie the game at 22-22, when play resumed but, with a jump shot, Nassira Traore gave the Malians the lead again.
With two free throws, Atonye Nyingifa tied the game at 24-24, and D’Tigress eased ahead of the Malians for the first time after grabbing the lead early in the game through Elonu. With four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Nassira Traore handed the advantage to the Malians all over again.
But, Nyingifa restored Nigeria’s lead before adding a free throw to give D’Tigress a two-point advantage. The Nigerian ladies never looked back after that, as they led 42-35 at the end of the second quarter.
The improvements the Nigerian ladies made to their play was evident. D’Tigress were stronger in the third quarter, matching the offensive of the Malians while improving their turnovers, adding to the tally from the paint and increasing their lead to 20 points. This helped them finish the quarter by a healthy 64-44 lead.
However, with fewer than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Malians rallied back and cut the margin to six points, prompting Coach Hughley to call a timeout. It seemed coming so close to qualifying made D’Tigress anxious and this resulted in a tight finish than expected.
There were 22 seconds left on the clock when Nyingifa grabbed a defensive rebound, but a faulty pass from Chidom led to a basket by Aminata Traore, cutting the margin to just two points. Fortunately, Traore missed her free shot and Chidom grabbed a rebound, drawing a foul from Adama Coulibaly.
With 14 seconds left in the quarter and D’Tigress on the verge of qualifying for Australia, Hughley called another timeout. Nyingifa was fouled and scored both of her free throws to give Nigeria a four-point advantage, and that was the final score, bringing D’Tigress to their second World Cup berth.