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Ulinzi, Thunder renew rivalry in play-offs final

Tuesday December 10 2019

Ulinzi Warriors guard Erick Mutoro (right) is guarded by Thunder's Charles Kituyi during their Kenya Basketball Federation men's Premier League match at Nyayo National Stadium on October 4, 2019. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Ulinzi Warriors guard Erick Mutoro (right) is guarded by Thunder's Charles Kituyi during their Kenya Basketball Federation men's Premier League match at Nyayo National Stadium on October 4, 2019. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

CAXTON APOLLO
By CAXTON APOLLO
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The battle for the new men's basketball Premier League champions gets underway on Tuesday 7pm when Ulinzi Warriors lock horns with rivals Thunder in Game One of play-offs final at Nyayo National Stadium Gymnasium.

Defending champions Kenya Ports Authority surrendered the league title they had won for three consecutive years when they lost 1-3 to rivals Ulinzi Warriors in the semi-final at the weekend. Ulinzi, who lost 0-3 to KPA in last year's final, unlocked a 1-1 tie in Mombasa to win Game Three 73-71 and Game Four 77-70 on Saturday to advance to the best-of-five play-offs final.

Tuesday's Game One of the best-of-five play-off final at Nyayo National Stadium, will set the stage for the new champions to be crowned. Game Two will be held at the same venue on Thursday from 4pm, and Game Three on Friday at 7pm.

Game Four will be held on Saturday from 4pm, with Game Five slated for Sunday starting 4pm.

Ulinzi Warriors and Thunder were the top-seeded teams in regular season finishing in first and second positions on the 12-team final table standings.

The two league giants had good runs this year, leaving the play-off final showdown difficult to predict. In the regular season, the two giants shared points with a 1-1 result on home and away basis, which makes the final likely to go either way.

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Coach William Balozi's Ulinzi Warriors will be seeking to recapture the league title which has eluded them since 2015. The soldiers have won the crown a record seven times.

On the other hand, coach Sadat Gaya's Thunder will battle hard to became the first men's self-supporting team to win the Premier League title. Since inception in 1987 institutional teams have dominated the championship.

Thunder, who eliminated newcomers Emyba 3-1 in the semi-final, had earlier reached the play-offs semi-final three times only to fall down to Ulinzi Warriors, disbanded Co-operative Bank and USIU-A Tigers.

Can second seed Thunder avenge defeat against top-seeded rivals Ulinzi Warriors, who rallied from behind 0-2 to beat them 3-2 in last year's semi-final?

Coach Gaya said: “Our strategy is to keep dangerous shooting guard Eric Mutoro and Victor Bosire off the ball with a tight defence to restrict their superb scoring power."

Ulinzi Warriors coach Balozi said: “We have so far corrected mistakes as we face tough opponents in the final. Thunder are eager to win first title and we must work had to stop them."

Ulinzi's men to watch are forward John Washika, guards Eric Mutoro and Victor Bosire who are consistent in scoring in double figures. Thunder are expected to parade international shooting guard Griffins Ligare, who sunk 22 points that did damage to Emyba, forward Kevin Chogo scorer of 25, Ancette Wafula, Nathan Terry and Emmanuel Soja to to make a bright start.

At the same time, women's champions Equity Bank will play in Mombasa against rivals KPA in final Game One on Saturday. Game Two of the repeat of 2018 play-off final is scheduled for Sunday before action shifts to Nairobi for the remaining three matches to determine the 2019 league champions.

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