Namuwongo Blazers’ 63-61 win over City Oilers on Friday divided opinion. First, it was the third time in a row the newly promoted side were handing the Oilers defeat on court and that did more than enhance their reputation in the conversation for the title.
However, after a strong start to the game by the defending champions that saw them lead by as many as 20 points in the first half, focus was put on the newbies’ ability to overcome a fully healthy Oilers side in not just a single game but a playoff series.
Mandy Juruni’s charges had the perfect start and led 27-7 at the end of the first quarter to silence a largely partisan crowd and send a reminder of how tough they are as a team when the stakes are high.
The seven-time champions, however, did not have enough resources to go the entire distance and when Blazers bounced back to lead, it was inevitable they would go on to win.
Injuries to Tonny Drileba and Ivan Lumanyika have left the Oilers thin and James Okello is playing hurt to give the team numbers.
Oilers’ efforts were not helped by Francis Azolibe’s early foul trouble that left the already depleted side in deep trouble. The Nigerian picked his fourth personal foul with a minute to go in the second quarter and sat out the third, only returning to pick his last in the fourth as he attempted to block Saidi Amisi.
Amisi went for 21 points and 14 rebounds while Ariel Okall fouled out with 14 points and six rebounds. Collins Kasujja’s three steals in the final moments of the game could not go unnoticed by the cheering crowd as Oilers lost their fourth game of the season.
Head coach Stephen Nyeko might be concerned by the kind of start his side had on the night but he will be grateful with the manner in which they bounced back from 20 points down.
That is rare against the Oilers.
The experience of players like Joseph Ikong and Paul Odongo came to the fore when needed while Collins Kasujja and Richard Ongom came on to get stops when the team was struggling to defend.
Kennedy Wachira, Daniel Jjuko and David Deng all had a game to forget.
Nyeko has had to make big decisions to win with this Blazers team. On Friday, there was no Chris Omanye in the team yet there were moments in the game when a player like him was needed.
The foreigners’ cap only allows a team four players per game day and with Blazers having six, Omanye and Nyuot Chol were the two sacrificed on the day.
“We can only choose four on a day and the team is aware of that,” Nyeko said.
Two of the four selected, Wachira and Deng, barely had an impact on the game. Omanye and Chol returned to the fold in Saturday’s 100-42 win over relegated Falcons, while Amisi and Deng were rested.
Chol poured in 32 points and 13 rebounds to be named Tusker Lite Player of the Game but still remains the easiest option to drop for the big games.
National basketball league
W Nabisunsa 30-88 KCCA
M Nam Blazers 63-61 City Oilers
W Angels 60-49 Nkumba
W JKL 91-53 Miracle
M Our Savior 76-55 Victoria
M Falcons 42-100 Nam Blazers
M JKL 53-80 Ndejje