As the 2023 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket approached, Nigeria’s D’Tigresses, the reigning champions, were embroiled in challenges.
The appointment of Rena Wakama as head coach, succeeding Otis Hughley, presented her with the formidable task of defending the title. This responsibility came just a month after her appointment, adding to the pressure.
Under Hughley’s leadership, the D’Tigresses had enjoyed a period of glory, clinching the African championship in 2017, 2019, and 2021.
However, the team’s preparation for the 2023 tournament was plagued by internal issues within the Federation. These problems cast doubt on their ability to continue their winning streak.
The team’s journey had been a successful one, with three African titles and a quarter-final appearance in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
However, turmoil ensued when the team withdrew from all basketball competitions due to governmental intervention following disputed elections within the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF).
Despite these setbacks, the D’Tigresses made a historic comeback in Kigali, where the 2023 Women’s AfroBasket championship took place.
Not only did they win their fourth consecutive African title by defeating Senegal 84-74, but they also completed the tournament undefeated (5-0).
This achievement extended their winning streak in the continent to 24-0 since the 2015 Women’s AfroBasket third-place game in Yaounde. This victory was notable as Wakama became the first female head coach to win a Women’s AfroBasket title.
Nigeria’s triumph was a testament to their resilience. With this victory, they joined Senegal as the only teams to win four consecutive titles.
The D’Tigresses have been unbeatable since their narrow loss to Cameroon in the 2015 Semi-Finals. When asked about the key to their success, Wakama highlighted determination as the crucial factor.
Wakama shared a poignant moment from the tournament when, facing a deficit against Mozambique, the team rallied to secure a win, signaling a defining moment for both her and the team.
This victory was not just a triumph in the tournament, but also a personal milestone for Wakama.
The 2023 squad was a blend of new talent and seasoned players. From the previous title-winning teams, only Sarah Ogoke, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, Amy Okonkwo, and Elizabeth Balogun returned to participate in Rwanda.
In the final against Senegal, the team’s collective effort was evident, with three starters scoring in double digits. Balogun scored 15 points, Ogoke added 13, and Okonkwo contributed 14.
Ifunaya Okoro led the team with 16 points, while Munjanatu Musa achieved a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Senegal, aiming for their 12th title, had a mixed journey with wins and losses leading up to the final. Nigeria, in contrast, maintained a perfect record with wins over DR Congo, Egypt, Mozambique, and Rwanda.
The final was a rematch of the 2019 championship hosted by Senegal, where Nigeria had previously emerged victorious.
The D’Tigresses continued their dominance, leading 43-31 at halftime and ultimately securing the win, reaffirming their supremacy in African basketball.
Looking ahead, Nigeria and Senegal are poised to face each other again in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Belgium, competing alongside the host nation and the United States for three slots at the Paris 2024 Olympics.