Uganda: All or Nothing for Canons, City Oilers in Decisive Game Seven

19 January 2020

On two different occasions this week, during games five and six of the National Basketball League playoff finals, the championship trophy and medals have had to be returned to the locker.

In both incidents, City Oilers had been expected to wrap up the contest, only for UCU Canons to thwart them. This is unprecedented and UCU could end up winning game seven today, meaning they would be champions for the first time in their history.

Even more interesting, they would be the first team to come from 3-1 down in a best of seven series, to win the National Basketball League. Following proceedings of Friday night, January 17, when UCU levelled the series to 3-3, game seven is expected to be explosive at the MTN Arena in Lugogo. There was much tenacity from UCU in game six, that saw them edge Oilers 78-73.

Their coach Nick Natuhereza said, "After the difficult situation we found ourselves in after game four, we have shown character and fight against a top team, to be within one game of the championship. Now we must keep working as hard as we have done so that we ultimately win."

UCU's speed, athleticism and defensive effort has been at its highest over the last couple of games. Not only has it stretched the more experienced Oilers side that boast of six successive championships since 2013, but it has also left them in deep thought about how to stop the UCU juggernaut.

David Dikong, Fayed Bbaale, Jeremy Kayanga, Titua Lual, Peter Sifuma, Caesar Adoke and Fadhili Chuma have all put in solid and more composed displays, than they did in game two, three and four. And probably, that could have deceived Oilers coach Mandy Juruni, before the rough patch hit him.

Juruni said, as he previewed game seven, "our guards will have to offer more than they have in the last two games."

Clearly, star players like Jimmy Enabu, Tonny Drileba, Ivan Muhwezi, Josh Johnson and Ben Komakech have not been as ruthless on offence, to add to the number of points scored by the two Oilers big men, James Okello and Landry Ndikumana.

For some reason, UCU has got their number and managed to keep them quiet. And since Oilers has not got many options to call on, considering the number of injuries they suffered before the playoffs started, UCU appear to have the advantage.

Drileba limped off court before the end of game six, and if he ends up being sidelined like Stephen Omony, Jonathan Egau and Francis Azolibe, Oilers will surely be overstretched, even psychologically, heading into the decider.

On top of that, the pressure has shifted to Oilers now. Yet, UCU are in the kind of position where many feel they have exceeded expectations, and therefore have nothing to lose.

But just how much Oilers may have to lose. When you consider, that during game five, they had a box of yellow T-shirts bearing the number seven, ready to celebrate a seventh title ready to be worn, only to be put on hold, one wonders where all that stock will be put if it is not put to use.

For what it is worth, the last time a playoff final was this evenly poised at 3-3, the team that reached three wins first, ended up winning the championship. In 2011, Power led Warriors 3-0, only for the latter to level the series. But Power won game seven, to clinch the championship.

In 2015, Oilers led the best of seven series 2-0, only to be pegged back to 2-2 by UCU. Oilers then won game five to lead 3-2, before UCU bounced back, to tie it 3-3. However, as history had dictated, Oilers won game seven 78-67 for their third title. If it is restored belief Oilers is in search of, 2015 is a good point of call.

jovi@observer.ug

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