There will be no love lost when champions Kenya Ports Authority renew their rivalry with Strathmore University Blades in Game One of the men’s Kenya Basketball Federation Premier League play-offs semi-finals at Nyayo National Stadium Gymnasium on Saturday from 4.30pm.
Blades qualified for their first ever Premier League finals last year but failed to realise their dream of winning a maiden title after the experienced KPA clinched the best-of-five series 3-1.
However, the big question remains, can the Blades cause a major upset and make it to a second straight finals at the expense of the champions?
Three-peat chasing KPA had the league’s best record in the regular after accumulating 39 points. The dockers won 18 matches and only dropped one point.
BLADES HIT KCA
While KPA strolled past eighth seed USIU-A Tigers 2-0 in the play-offs quarter-finals, Blades swat aside rivals Kenya College of Accountancy-University 2-0 in the last eight to book a date with the dockers.
Both coaches, Tonny Ochieng of Blades and KPA’s Sammy Kiki, know that any complacency in the series will all but end their chances of advancing to the title showdown.
“I only have three players based in Mombasa with the rest in Nairobi, Busia and Kerugoya and training together has been a big challenge. I will go for two consecutive victories to make return matches in Mombasa a mere formality," said Kiki, a former KPA point guard.
Kisumu-based guard Victor Bosire, Tobias Onyango, forwards Victor Odendo and Martin Kitonga shoulder the responsibility of steering KPA to their third straight title.
Coach Ochieng, whose side lost the two regular season matches against KPA, said: “We have no pressure and if we can drop more points on the paint and command the boards, we shall carry the day. KPA is an athletic team and we must also utilise well the home court advantage.”
Blades’ shooting guard Shilton Ochieng, Fidel Okoth, Pascal Nabwana and Samuel Mogoko will be seeking to make KPA uncomfortable in the match-ups.
In the other semi-final play-offs contest, six-time champions Ulinzi Warriors will take on Thunder at the same venue at 3pm seeking to lay the marker early on in the series.
After failing to make it to last year’s play-offs final, the Warriors must be prepared for a tough battle against high-riding Thunder in Game One.
The soldiers will be hoping guard Eric Mutoro, forwards John Washika and William Ochieng – who had a perfect show in the quarter-finals – will carry their scoring form into the series.
Thunder, who are out to qualify for their maiden finals, have dangerous scorers in guard Griffins Ligare, forwards Nate Terry and power forward Kevin Chogo.
Ulinzi Warriors coach William Balozi said: “We qualified early and started training hard for either Equity Bank or Thunder. Being the knockout stage, we cannot underrate our opponents.”
Ulinzi Warriors, who finished second in the regular season with 35 points, defeated Thunder 72-63 in the second leg.
The men’s Division One League play-offs semi-finals will also get under way with Eldonets hosting Kenyatta University Pirates in Game One and Two in Eldoret. University of Nairobi’s Terrorists, who were the first team to qualify, will open their quest for a return to the Premier League against Emyba in Game One at Nyayo.