Ezinne Kalu sandwiched between US players as she attempts a layup. Photo Credit: @FIBA

When Nigeria’s D’Tigress faced the United States in an exhibition game a week ago in Las Vegas, there was a tinge of concern that when these two teams meet again at the Tokyo Olympics, it was going to be one-way traffic.

However that was not the case this time around, it was much closer than anticipated. Although USA won the match 81- 72, it was a match the Nigerian team surprised their opponents, making offensive plays and quite brave in some of their transitions.

Nigeria started the better of the two teams, haggled and disrupted USA’s rhythm, leading after the first quarter by 20-17. USA got right back in full flow in the second quarter and opened an 18-pt lead, but a 6-0 run by Nigeria, including a buzzer 3pt shot from Adaora Elonu ensured that they went into the break trailing by 12pts, reducing the gap.

Prior to the Olympics, much of the team’s build-up was centered around the nationality switch of the Ogwumike sisters (Nneka and Chiney), which was almost a distraction as Nigeria didn’t know if they would get the clearance for the players until few days to the Games.

With other players like Evelyn Akhator out injured, Nigeria was thin on big players who could have made the difference in this game against the US. Brittney Griner and A’Ja Wilson had it all too easy against Nigeria, and it made all the difference as Nigeria struggled to finish off their offensive rebounds particularly in the 2nd quarter.

Nigeria had more offensive rebounds (19) and if they had a big player in the paint who could have knocked in a few of those, maybe it would have been made some difference in a game the US made 45 defensive rebounds.

Four players finished the match on double digits for Nigeria, and yet again Ezinne Kalu proved how vital she is for the team, leading the way for D’Tigress with 16pts, 6rebs and 2 assists.

This is the fourth time in three years Nigeria is playing the United states, and although they have lost all four, D’Tigress are gradually closing the gap on them.

Nigeria will hope to bounce back to winning ways against France on Friday, a game which will go a long way in determining their quest to make the quarterfinals, before finishing off their last group game against the hosts Japan.

 

Many thanks to Paga for being the official sponsor of Making of Champions coverage of the Tokyo Olympics.

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Very proficient in writing and talking about football, but has now found a new love in Athletics. Just a matter of time before I become a master on things pertaining to the tracks. Formerly the Content Manager-Sports at NigerianBulletin and Allsports, Christopher is now a Senior Sports writer at Making of Champions.

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