IN KAMPALA, UGANDA
The Lugogo indoor basketball court was temporarily turned into a dancing hall by Kenyan players and fans after Kenya made history with a first ever victory over Egypt as the African Games Zone Five qualifiers entered crucial stages here on Thursday night.
The 97-79 victory for Kenya was revenge served cold for the “Pharaohs” whose women’s team had beaten Kenya 86-82 in the opener on Wednesday.
Kenyan men have never beaten Egypt in any competition, at any level, and the 18-point gap in this tension-charged encounter at a packed court was a clear indicator that the Kenyan game has come of age.
It will be the first time ever for Kenya’s men to qualify for a continental basketball tournament should they beat Rwanda and Tanzania or just lose to Rwanda by less than 27 points in the remaining two matches.
Denmark-based Tayler Okari, US-based students Bush Wamukota and Ronnie Gundo and Australia-based Desmond Owili, together with diminutive point guards Eric Mutoro and Griffin Ligare, plotted the Egyptian downfall with Airal Okal, Valentine Nyakinda and Victor Electric Ochieng bringing some extra energy from the bench.
The writing was on the wall for the Egyptians right from tip-off when Kenya raced to an early 12-06 lead inside the first five minutes but the Egyptians rallied to take the first quarter 21-19.
That was the last time the Egyptians led in this high octane clash as the more physical and accurate Kenyans, whose shots were dropping in at will, engaged a much higher gear taking a deserved 46-36 lead at the break and a 76-58 lead in the third.
This put the game beyond the gigantic Egyptians’ reach and the north Africans resorted to rough play and dirty tricks to prevent the scores from getting to the century mark.
As expected, Okari top scored with 30 points and picked 16 rebounds and five steals while Eric Mutoro (21), Griffin Ligare (19), and Ronnie Gundo (13) all finished with double figures. Egypt over relied on Mustapha Mohammed who had 23 points while Ahmed Azab had 15 points.
“I was glued to my computer for three hours last night planning for this game and I am happy we have the results. I am happy that as a head coach, am the one who have made history,” Kenya head Coach Cliff Owuor said.
Also elated were Kenya Basketball treasurer Peter Orero - who was briefly at Lugogo for the match - and chairman Paul Otula who motivated the players ahead of the trip.
“We did everything for these teams, thanks to the government and our sponsors MadGoat who came in at the right time. Am happy that we have already started to see the results,” Otula who was expected in Kampala Friday evening told Nation Sport on phone from Nairobi.