by Ayotunde Onabolu
After failing to record a win in the history of the FIBA Women’s World Cup before now, Nigeria’s D’Tigress recorded two wins in a row. From massive underdogs, they rose beyond expectation and finished second in Group B with a 2-1 record behind Australia who were overwhelming favorites to win the group (and who had Liz Cambage—the most dominant offensive weapon at the World Cup—by the way).
So, what did the Nigerian queens do differently in the wins over Turkey and Argentina that they didn’t do in the loss to Australia? To be very honest, nothing! It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same aggressiveness, the same hustle, and even the same mistakes! The Aussies are just blessed to have a huge enforcer down-low.
After encouraging wins over Turkey and Argentina, next up for D’Tigress are the ladies in blue and white from Greece who themselves needed a very much hard-fought win over Korea in what was a very nervy final Group A game after earlier losses to Canada and France.
But really, why should the Greeks be scared of the Nigerians? This is a question of what the Greeks lack in their game and what the Nigerians are blessed with in their own game.
It’s a matter of size—not just height, but size. In women’s basketball, size matters! Historically, a team with size advantage in a game has the overall advantage over the other team. You’re probably thinking, does Nigeria really have size? Haven’t team officials come out at some point in the recent past to complain about the lack of size in the post in the Nigerian team?
Actually, Nigeria isn’t known for tall bodies. In fact, of the other 15 teams at the World Cup, only Argentina, Japan, Korea, and Puerto Rico have shorter average player heights than Nigeria.
But here’s the thing: whilst size may be a combination of height and weight, D’Tigress have shown that in their own basketball dictionary, the size of their heart and hustle (and not just height and weight alone) is a vital part of the overall size being talked about—and truly, they’ve stood out!
Nigeria has had several combinations of players in the paint and each player has contributed in one way or the other—from Evelyn Akhator, to Aisha Mohammed, Sarah Imovbioh, Elo Edeferioka, Atonye Nyingifa, and even Adaora Elonu.
One area of Nigeria’s game that stands out and is a testament of will, heart, and hustle is their rebounding. Nigeria outrebounded all three opponents in the group phase (42-41 versus Australia, 43-39 versus Turkey and 56-39 versus Argentina). Nigeria currently ranks third in total rebounds per game—behind Belgium and Canada, and yes, above Australia and the United States of America!
It even gets better with offensive rebounding! Nigeria is the best offensive rebounding team at the World Cup with 20 offensive rebounds per game! Yes, TWENTY offensive boards per game! To put this figure in clearer perspective, Nigeria is a better offensive rebounding team and grabs twice as many offensive rebounds than the USA! For further context and to show how much D’Tigress have been so dominant on the glass, the highest offensive rebounding team in the WNBA last season was the Connecticut Sun with 11 offensive rebounds per game!
Hey, any normal team that goes up against Nigeria will have to be terrified and concerned by their intensity when going up for rebounds. Now imagine if and only if the Nigerian ladies could convert just half of their second chance opportunities. They would have won all three group games in a landslide. What if they actually go ahead and grab so many offensive rebounds and convert half of their second chance opportunities against Greece? Now, that’s one major reason the Greeks should be scared of the Nigerians.
The Greeks have not rebounded the ball so well. They are 15th of 16 teams in defensive rebounding, and as such, one begins to wonder how they can cope with Nigeria’s hustle on the glass. Don’t get it twisted, winning on the glass most times translates to winning the game!
What the Nigerian ladies lack in skill, they have in heart, spirit, character, and hustle.
D’Tigress certainly have a lot of work to do on offense in terms of post play, perimeter play and free throw conversion (very critical), but as long as they continue to dominate the glass on both ends of the floor as they did in the group phase, they have a good chance to beat Greece and then test their might against the best nation in the history of basketball—the Americans!