What you need to know:
Exciting. Both sides struggled to execute on offence early on but the game lived up to its billing in the second half and the full house got value for money as Steven Nyeko’s Namuwongo Blazers dominated City Oilers’ to run away with the first game of the season in a 72-65 victory.
The Ugandan basketball crowd loves it when City Oilers are beaten. The crowd is always partisan every time the seven-time champions step on court and Fridays’ return of the National Basketball League (NBL) turned out perfect for the lovers of the game.
At first, it was frustration for the crowd as Oilers seemed to get everything right at tip off. The champions were executing their plays while Namuwongo Blazers struggled for offence.
Then there were boos all over the place as fans contested calls made by referee Monica Nassuna in Oilers’ favour. Then came a long stoppage to ascertain Ivan Lumanyika’s eligibility. It ended with the centre getting the green light. The silenced full house would get to life later in the game as Steven Nyeko’s charges dominated Oilers’ small line up to run away with the first game of the season in a 72-65 victory.
Too small for ‘Melno’
Blazers suffocated Oilers’ inside game to win their second game, on court, against the defending champions.
Their victory from last year’s aborted season was overturned after they were found to have used a not-fully registered Geoffrey Soro.
Oilers starting big men Ivan Lumanyika and James Okello got into early foul trouble and forced the defending champions to go small early with limited options on the bench.
Nigerian Francis Azolibe was present on the bench but is ineligible to play in the first round.
The two ‘bigs’ picked up three fouls in the first half and had to be used sparingly for the rest of the game.
That left Mandy Juruni’s charges vulnerable every time the Blazers fed their Congolese centre Saidi Amisi, commonly referred to as Carmelo, on the post.
He found himself with a mismatch to score easily and was clever enough to find an open teammate whenever double-teamed. Predominantly a drab affair in the first half, the game got a spark in the second as Blazers got back into it.
The champions had gone into half time leading 34-27 as Ben Komakech got hot to end the half with two corner three-pointers. Oilers had ended the first 10 minutes with a six-point advantage (17-11). They maintained that at the end of the third frame (51-45) but with Okello picking his fourth foul upon restart, Oilers were there for the taking and Blazers pounced. The two sides exchanged leads in the last six minutes. Amisi attacked the basket and got Lumanyika fouled out with 3.40 left on the game and Oilers leading by two (61-59).
Okello, Oilers’ last recognisable big man, fouled out with 1.03 left on the clock after he was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Joseph Ikong.
The Blazers went on a 9-0 run to lead 71-64 with 36 seconds left on the clock and the game was effectively won.
Blazers noticed the advantage they had on the inside and fed the post. In the end, they got 32 points in the paint compared to Oilers’ 16.
Richard Ongom came off the bench and turned out to be Blazers’ second-best performer on the night as he poured in 15 points. Ikong had 14 while the game’s Tusker Lite MVP, Amisi had a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Oilers usual suspects didn’t show up. Jimmy Enabu and Tony Drileba combined for a mere 10 points while Okello, limited to 20 minutes by foul trouble, had nine.
Youngster Ruai Luak led the champions with 13 points while Ivan Muhwezi and Komakech came off the bench to contribute 11 and 10 points respectively as Oilers recorded yet another day one loss.
“The difference was with the big men. Our bigs came to play and theirs got into foul trouble,” Ikong, playing his first league game for Blazers, told Sunday Monitor.
Oilers’ Okello knows they must recover quickly and get going.
He promised: “This means we have to go back and reset ourselves. Maybe we thought we were ready but the game has just showed we are not. We will correct our mistakes.”
NATIONAL BASKETBALL LEAGUE
SEASON OPENERS - FRIDAY
W: KCCA 63-69 KIU Rangers
M: City Oilers 65-72 Nam Blazers
Today’s fixtures - Lugogo
W: Miracle vs. Angels, 10am
M: Our Savior vs. T. Royals, 12pm
W: Nkumba vs. Stormers, 2pm
M: Ndejje vs. KCCA, 4pm
M: JKL vs. UPDF, 6pm