Nervy night as USIU-A, Ulinzi reach league final

By francis marangu
Dec 15, 2021
  • USIU Kevin Kiogotho at a past league game. USIU qualified for the playoff final.(Photo:SNA File)

Griffin Ligare turned from hero to villain as United States International University- Africa (USIU-A) eliminated Nairobi City Thunder with a 3-2 series win to qualify for the Kenya Basketball Federation men’s premier league playoffs final.

Thunder had struggled through the first three quarters and even trailed by 16 points in third quarter.

It was until Ligare took charge and single-handedly led their comeback in the fourth quarter with three-point plays that had fans on their feet.

Out of the nine three-pointers he made, seven were in the fourth quarter scoring an impressive 24/27 for Thunder.

But, things turned against Ligare with just a minute of play remaining and after having managed to help cut the deficit to three points at 82-85.

As he was going for a nearly sure three-point shot to tie scores and give Thunder a lifeline, Ligare conceded a costly turnover that resulted in Alex Ramazani scoring a basket to take scores to 82-87.

Moments later, Ligare was fouled out.

Match delayed over leaking roof

As it has been the norm whenever it pours during a basketball game, USIU-A had to wait for four hours after tip off to qualify as heavy rains pounding Nairobi rendered the Nyayo National Stadium gymnasium unplayable.

After the whistle went at 7:30 p.m, play was stopped with 5:22 to play in first quarter as USIU-A led 11-8.

They had led at 3-0, 5-3 and 9-8 while Thunder led at 8-7. There was a tie of 3-3. Kevin Kigotho had some good defensive play for USIU-A making two crucial blocks and taking care of the rebounds.

After close to an hour of stoppage, play resumed and the students won the quarter 22-19 having taken the biggest lead of nine points at 20-11. Thunder started by tying scores at 11-11 but USIU-A took the lead at 13-11.

Before the second quarter started, the rains poured again forcing a two hour stoppage. In that period, both teams were prevailed upon to postpone the game but insisted on playing to completion.

Teams defy KBF insist on play 

Even for the second game between Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Ulinzi Warriors, they insisted on playing and not even the intervention of KBF chairman Paul Otula who was present helped much.

After the long wait, play resumed at 10 p.m and USIU-A continued from where they left it. They extended their lead to 12 points in second quarter at 35-23 and went on to win 26-21 for a 48-40 halftime lead. USIU-A stretched their lead to 16 points in third quarter at 60-44.

The heat became too much for Thunder’s technical bench with head coach Faustin Mgendi getting a technical foul.

Thunder won 19-16 and went on the offensive in fourth quarter. USIU-A had their two big men Kevin Kigotho and Lionel Manyara fouled out leaving Alvin Nyangweso and Ramazani to do much work. Head coach Isaac Munyoki said that did not affect their play in any way.

“When you play as a team, it does not matter who is in or who is out. It is the time for the five players on the court to stand up and they did. Am happy that Ramazani fitted in well even in the absence of Joel Ntambwe.” A 28-27 win for USIU-A all but ended Thunder’s dream of making their first final ever and gave USIU-A their second appearance at a final.

Ligare scored a game high 42 points for Thunder while Nyangweso scored 30 for USIU-A and Ramazani had 26. The students will take a one day rest before going to the final but Munyoki said fatigue is not of concern.

“That is just an excuse. Even our opponents are going through the same predicament so we are at the same level.

” He said being labeled underdogs in the race for the title helped USIU-A perform well.

“The underdog tag worked for us because we finished fourth in our conference and were written off. Even when we went 1-2 down against Thunder, nobody gave us a chance to make it. Managing to come back and win the last two games was not easy against such a quality team.”

 In 2012, they played and lost in the final against Co-operative Bank and Munyoki is hoping to make a step further this year. “We were in a similar situation then and I believe we will get it right this time.”

USIU face Ulinzi 

USIU-A will play Ulinzi who beat KPA 78-73 in game four that tipped off at midnight due to the delays. Victor Bosire scored a three-point shot and two baskets to give KPA a 7-0 lead as they won first quarter 14-12.

After a see-saw performance, the dockers saw their hopes of defending the title crumble in the closing minutes of the game. The resilience displayed by Ulinzi was too much for them.

Their female counterparts made it to the final of the women premier league playoffs after a 3-1 series win over Co-op Bank in Mombasa. In division one, Upper Hill made history as the first ever high school to play in the premier league after earning promotion by the virtue of qualifying for the final.

They beat Barclays Bank 49-33 in game four and secured a 3-1 series win. They will play Kenya College of Accountancy- University (KCA-U).