The battle for top spot in this year’s men’s basketball Premier League regular season took a new twist after Thunder rose to the summit at the weekend.
Last Saturday, Thunder laboured to a 56-48 win over Strathmore University Blades in a nervy return leg match at Nyayo Gymnasium. Following the win, Thunder moved top of the 12-team log on 32 points. Ulinzi Warriors, who were inactive, dropped to second position on 31 points. Both teams have only lost two matches which makes them hot favourites to clinch first position at the end of second leg.
Should Ulinzi Warriors and Thunder finish in first two positions, they will be separated in the play-offs quarter-finals and semi-finals fixtures and will only meet again in the best-of-five series final. Top eight teams in all leagues will advance to the best-of-three series play-offs quarter-finals.
Defending champions Kenya Ports Authority, who are placed third on the standings with 30 points, have lost four matches with five outings to go. The dock men face a tall order to catch up with high-riding Thunder and Ulinzi Warriors in the battle for top spot. Thunder defeated Ulinzi Warriors comfortably 68-55 in the first leg and they boast a better goal aggregate should the two teams tie on final points.
Thunder, who had beaten Blades 77-72 in first leg, had to resist much pressure to complete a double and deny the varsity students all the four points this season.
Following the loss, Blades dropped to sixth position with 24 points and their chances of finishing in top eight positions will depend on the outcome of their last crucial six matches. They have won eight matches and lost an equal number.
Equity Bank’s 65-55 victory over Lakeside kept alive their chances of finishing the regular season top. But the bankers, who occupy the fourth position on 25 points, are disadvantaged by virtue of having lost three matches.
Eldoret-based Eldonets surprised themselves when they harvested maximum four points from two tricky matches during their tour of Nairobi last weekend. Eldonets made a flying start with a hard-fought 50-47 win over KCA-U on Saturday before beating World Hope 75-59 a day later. As a result, impressive Eldonets climbed the ladder from sixth to fourth with 26 points from eight wins and 10 losses.
Eldonets coach Maurice Ouma said: "These two wins have earned us a spot in Premier League play-offs on our first attempt which is a big achievement. We did not train adequately in outdoor court because of heavy rains in Eldoret but picking maximum points in two away games confirms that winning Division One league last year was not a fluke.’’
Eldonets, who have a good home record, are left with two matches at their backyard and two away in Nairobi.
KCA-U and World Hope will need a miracle to escape relegation after losing their crucial matches to Eldonets. KCA-U coach Charles Goro said: "We needed to harvest two points and win four other matches to survive the axe.’’
His World Hope counterpart George Namake, whose side are second bottom with 16 points after having won only two matches and lost 12, also preached optimism. "We shall survive relegation because we are building new a team for the future," he said.
Kisumu-Lakeside remained in relegation zone after losing both games in Nairobi. Lakeside were beaten 65-55 by Equity Bank on Saturday and dropped another point when Umoja edged them 58-50 on Sunday. Umoja increased their tally to 21 to occupy ninth spot in the men’s Premier League and they must perform well in their remaining seven matches to finish among the top eight.
Lakeside are a distant 10th on the standings with 16 points from three wins and 10 losses. The bottom two teams at the end of the regular season will be relegated to the men’s Division One league.
Baobab Blazers had mixed fortune in the men’s Division One league picking three points from two matches. The Mombasa-based side lost 57-63 to hosts Neosasa on Saturday then beat 4-Christ 55-25 on Sunday to recover.
Men’s Premier League
Thunder 56-48 Blades, Eldonets 75-59 World Hope, Equity Bank 65-55 Lakeside, Eldonets 50-47 KCA-U
Men’s Division One League
Neosasa 63-57 Baobab Blazers, Baobab Blazers 55-25 4-Christ.