The FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2019 champions merited their success and two of their players along with a finalist and one player from both semi-finalists. Point guard Ezinne Kalu inspired Nigeria with 13 points, 3.2 assists, three steals and 2.6 rebounds per game giving her an efficiency of 12 per game and this individual brilliance earned her the Most Valuable Player Award and a place in the tournament five.
Kalu narrowly edged out her teammate Evelyn Akhator for the MVP Award, as the centre, who played a crucial role in helping Nigeria’s quest to defend their title, averaged 11 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Nevertheless, Akhator made it to the Tournament Five.
Joining on the podium is Astou Traore of Senegal whose individual contribution to defining Senegal as a title favourite throughout the tournament meant that she fully deserved her place at the high table. Traore, who is no stranger to the Tournament Five having featured at the 2017 edition when she was also named MVP, averaged 15.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
Mali poster girl Touty Gandega renowned for her intensity on court was rewarded for her leadership by example but most importantly as the best point guard of the competition. She averaged 11.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game as the Malians finished third for a third consecutive FIBA Women’s AfroBasket.
Leia Dongue from Mozambique wowed the Senegalese crowd from the beginning of the tournament to the end and much to their satisfaction, she was applauded when her name was read out to complete the Tournament Five. Dongue averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for Mozambique.
Her teammate Seda Tamara from Mozambique was the tournament’s highest rebounder with 57 to her name, while Angolan super star Italee Lucas was the highest three-point shooter with 12 of them. Egypt’s internet sensation Soraya Degheidy walked away as the highest points scorer with 85 as her side was handed the Fair Play Award.
This was the 26th edition of Africa’s premier competition for women’s basketball. In her second FIBA Women’s AfroBasket appearance, Kalu averaged 13 points and a team-high three assists in five games.The 27-year-old guard was phenomenal throughout the eight-day tournament in Dakar, coming up with incredible plays for the two-time defending champions.And it was in Friday’s 79-58 semifinal win against Mali that Kalu reiterated her MVP credentials after hitting five of her 10 three-points attempts to finish with a game-best 19 points.In the process, she helped Nigeria become the first team to win back-to-back FIBA Women’s AfroBasket titles since Angola did it in 2013.
Ever since Kalu made her debut for Nigeria at he 2016 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, – where she hit a three-point winner that relaunched Nigeria in the Rio Olympics race – the 1.78m (5ft 8in) guard has been fundamental for the West African country. And they may have missed a spot for the Rio Games’ by a whisker three years ago, but Kalu’s Nigeria have a second chance in November when they take part in the pre-qualifiers for the 2020 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.
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