Uganda’s Silverbacks travelled to Angola’s western city of Benguela for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Qualifiers at the eleventh hour.
The effects of late travel and ill preparations were apparent in the opening game of the campaign against Mali on Friday in which the silverbacks suffered a 76-66 loss.
Only Brandon Davies made a significant contribution of game-high 24 points to go with 16 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks with debutant Titus Lual the closest with 12 points.
Davies’ production on the night didn’t surprise head coach Mandy Juruni but his job was cut out. He had to make sure other players raise their production.
“I’m not surprised (about Davies). He had a big game for us. I think he did what we expected from him,” Juruni said after the game. “Definitely the other players have to step up. This is a team game. It’s not going to be easy for us if it’s going to be one or two players. So we have to make sure that everyone steps in and contributes,” he added.
Defeat in the opener meant Mandy Juruni’s charges need to respond against Cape Verde and they did with a nervy 77-74 win.
In the victory, the Silverbacks seemed to correct all the things that went wrong against Mali. The defense was much better and offense was more fluid with Robinson Opong in the line-up as it took the load off Davies and spread the floor.
“I think yesterday we were a bit rusty and I saw so many things that we didn’t do right. Most of those things were not basketball-related but more mindset. I think today the focus and effort were really good compared to yesterday. That’s what won us the game,” Juruni said in the aftermath of the win.
Facing top-ranked Nigeria in the final game, it was always going to be tough for Uganda despite the fact that D’Tigers had just two prominent stars in vets Ben Uzoh and Ike Diogu.
Despite matching up well in the opening quarter, the game slipped away from the Silverbacks as porous defending and an off-shooting night played right in D’Tigers’ favour.
While Silverbacks shots were drawing the iron, Diogu was hot from beyond the arc connecting on 6-of-7 as Nigeria were 95-69 runaway winners of the contest.
The heavy defeat put Silverbacks in a deep hole of points difference (-33) coming out of the first window of the qualifiers.
The second qualifying window (June 27 – July 5, 2022) will come in the offseason for the American-based stars and if that group that made the core of the team at the AfroBasket is available, the Silverbacks will definitely improve a lot but the results are not a given.
However, at the moment what is as clear as daylight is that the race in Group A is wide open as all four teams registered at least one loss.