ATLANTA (USA) – Nigeria’s D’Tigress will face world champions USA for the third time in as many years after the two sides were drawn in Group B along with hosts Japan and France for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics showdown this summer.
Quickly becoming a favorite tie to watch, the rivalry between the African champions and the holders yet again promises to produce much-needed sparks at the prestigious tournament that attracts the best 12 teams in the world.
“PLAYING USA FOR THE THIRD TIME IN ALMOST AS MANY YEARS IS EXCITING BUT VERY, VERY DIFFICULT AND WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SURPRISE THEM. WE ARE GOING TO DO OUR VERY BEST AND TO BE THE BEST VERSIONS OF OURSELVES.”
At the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 Quarter-Finals, USA made light work of Nigeria dismissing them 71-40, but at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia in February last year, D’Tigress made amends and almost surprised the USA who closed the gap in the evening of the game to win 76-71.
However, that memory still lives with the Nigerians who will be seeking revenge in Tokyo and hoping to stun the world champions but head coach Otis Hughley Jr is cautious amidst a yearning to do their best at the big stage.
Nigeria will be playing at the Summer Olympics for the second time since their debut at Athens 2004, however, a lot has changed since their inaugural participation.
D’Tigress have gone unbeaten in Africa since they won the third place playoff at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2015 in Cameroon to completely dominate the continent winning two back-to-back titles while establishing themselves as a rising force.
They now want to extend their reach to the world stage and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has presented the perfect occasion to do that.
To achieve that, they must prepare and Hughley Jr is already at it with a select group of 16 players in Atlanta for a training camp that will help the team begin the process.
He told FIBA.basketball in an exclusive interview that, “There is not a lot of time since it is only a few days. When other countries practice this summer, they practice and play because in the first window in November, they are playing and practicing and then the second window, they will have friendly games in the spring and then they will play EuroBasket in June. That is five times before we even get a chance to meet twice. So, it is not enough time to prepare but we shall do our best.”
That the core of the team have been playing together for the past four years is an attribute that will go a long way in helping Hughley Jr prepare for the Olympics.
Center Aisha Mohamed is the only current active member of the 2004 squad
Newcomers like Erica Ogwumike whose sister Nneka Ogwumike will be at the center of the USA charge provides a different look to the team but will have to prove her worth if she is to make it to the final roster.
Nigeria will dive straight into the fire with their opening game against the USA on July 27 before taking on France three days later. They will then take on hosts Japan on August 2 in their last tie of a tough Group B. The top three teams will progress to the Quarter-Finals of the tournament.
Hughley Jr said, “Playing USA for the third time in almost as many years is exciting but very, very difficult and we won’t be able to surprise them. They will be ready like they will for everyone else. The USA expects to win every game that they play. We have now adapted that attitude as well. We are going to do our very best and to be the best versions of ourselves. We are excited about that for sure.”
For Hughley Jr, every game in this group is a final and he is quick to point out that his team will throw everything they have at every game and try to win every game.
Nigeria went 0-5 at Athens 2004 before picking a memorable victory over Korea in their last classification game to finish 11th out of 12 teams. They will be hoping to better this performance and join the elite teams in the world.