Tuesday, February 14
•South Sudan 68-83 Egypt
•Uganda 53-61 Kenya
Wednesday, February 15
•Rwanda Vs South Sudan – 5pm
•Egypt Vs Uganda – 8pm
Uganda’s National Women Basketball team, the Gazelles started their Zone Five Championship campaign with a 53-61 defeat to rivals Kenya on Tuesday at a packed Indoor Arena in Lugogo, Kampala.
Playing for the very first time since 2019, the Gazelles struggled to get things going in a game they trailed for the largest part.
Uganda were 07-16 down after the opening quarter and Kenya maintained their nine-point advantage (34-25) at the long break.
But Uganda came from the rest rooms motivated and started to play with intention and purpose, opening the third quarter with a 15-5 run, with Rita Imanishimwe holding her nerves to convert all three free-throws to give the Gazelles a 40-39 lead with 02:53 remaining on the third quarter.
But Kenya Lionesses fought their way back and were 43-42 up going into the last quarter.
And from there, Kenya did not put the foot off the pedal, dominated the boards as Uganda struggled at both ends of the floor to fall by 8 points at the final buzzer.
Jannon Otto led Uganda’s surge with 11 points while Brenda Ekone and Hope Akello added 10 points each in a losing effort.
Christine Akinyi scored a double double of 14 points and 12 rebounds, Mercy Wanyama had 15 points while Madine Okot grabbed a game high 20 rebounds.
Uganda Huff and Puff
There was less to admire from the Gazelles especially at the start where the team rushed on offense.
And against a defending champion littered with quality and experience, the Gazelles posed less threat.
Visibly, the Gazelles lacked chemistry, and substitution after substitution in the opening exchanges the team struggled to gel despite a strong home support.
There was some commendable individual brilliance – Akello scored the lion’s share of the team’s points in opening minutes, Otto tried to carry the team despite missing 13 of her 17 shots on the field, Evelyn Nakiyingi showed composure, while Rita Imanishimwe and Brenda Ekone showed some effort.
But the rest of the squad struggled to put their foot on the ground, including Maria Najjuma who can be forgiven for now given that she was making her senior debut.
This is a team that has not been together for a while, with a squad comprising mostly of first-timers and the rebuilding process will surely take some time.
The Federation tried their best to give the team ample preparations, including a month-long period of training.
But some things did not go right, starting from late arrival of Najjuma, Otto and the head coach Alberto Antuna, the latter joining the team on match-day.
The decision to drop Zainah Lokwameri looks wrong from the outside with her maturity and experience missing for extended stretches in the contest.
Otto limped off in the closing stages and it remains to be seen in what shape she will be against Egypt on Wednesday.
And with a single ticket at stake to Afrobasket, Uganda’s start doesn’t suggest that the wait to return on the continent since 2015 is about to end.
Kenya, coached by a familiar George Mayienga, were dominant especially under the posts, picking 69 rebounds against Uganda’s 56.
And they will be favourites to defend their title as they seek for a third straight return to Afrobasket due July/August in Kigali, Rwanda.
Uganda will hope that there are better days ahead, but with games coming in thick and fast, an improved performance against Egypt should not be an option if the team is to have a chance of finishing among the top two after the round robin to contest for a qualification final on Sunday.