D'Tigress put Tokyo Games disappointment behind them with another AfroBasket title

Nigeria are the second-most successive team in the history of the Women's AfroBasket with five titles. Sengal have won the tournament 11 times. Saabi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Nigeria exorcised the demons of their nightmare 2020 Olympic Games performance by coasting to a convincing third AfroBasket title on the bounce with a 70-59 victory over Mali last week.

The victory -- on the back of an undefeated run from the pool games to the final -- cemented the dominance of D'Tigress in African Women's basketball. The result pushed them to a 19-game winning streak dating back to 2015, when they lost the AfroBasket semifinal to Cameroon.

Head coach Otis Hughely sounded a warning not just to Africa, but to the rest of the world, saying his wards are only going to get even better, especially with the potential to add more quality to the roster.

"I think we can get a lot of better. With a lot of rest and if the people who have Nigerian blood are allowed to come play for us. We have Michael Onyewere, Arike Ogunbowale, Nneka Ogwumike, Elizabeth Williams in the WNBA," Hughely said.

"How scary could this team be? We have Amy Okonkwo, Nicole Enabosi, Erica Ogwumike, Elizabeth Balogun, Odera Chidom and Evelyn Akhator when she comes back. We have the potential to be really good.

"That is just a few names to show you how scary good this team can be. And that is just the names you know. What about the ones you don't know about?

"FIBA and the rest of the world will be scared of that, They are already afraid, because you see what they did to us at the Olympics. FIBA knows -- that's why they didn't let them play at the Olympics."

That Olympic Games performance remains a sore point for many basketball followers in Nigeria and has been used as rod to beat both the teams and the federation with. Hughely insists there was more to it than just wins and losses.

"Did we really do badly? We are the only team that lost in single digits to the US. They blew every one else out. The bronze medal team had three losses. No other team in the whole field beat any team in our pool," Hughely added.

"We went to Belgium and played Serbia who won EuroBasket. They lost to the third-placed team in our pool. We beat Puerto Rico by 33 points. Did you see the pool they put us in? The US and the hosts. You are dead with those two already. The only chance we had was France, who are number five in the world. You have to measure the quality of opposition. We lost three games and we went up in ranking, We didn't fall. What does that tell you?"

In their run to the title in Cameroon, D'Tigress outshot the opposition by an average of 15 points per game and were among the highest-scoring teams at the tournament, averaging 73.4 points per game.

"The Olympics made Nigeria basketball take a giant leap forward," Hughely said. "We didn't shoot well at the Olympics, but we averaged maybe eight or nine threes a game here. We learned that from the Olympics, that we have to be able to shoot the basketball and that experience was invaluable. We had to draw on it with the core group that we had to win this."

Still, he admits that it was a difficult tournament to win - and in no way helped by the luck -- or design -- of the draw.

"The field was markedly better than it was in 2019. And then there was the pool they put us in the AfroBasket. How are you going to have the two qualifiers for the Olympics being in the same pool? And then Angola are in zone six and so is Mozambique. How are all three of us going to be in the same pool? It's ridiculous?"

Despite those hurdles, Hughely insists that his team went into the tournament determined to do one thing and one thing only -- win the title again.

"I never felt we would not win it, but I always felt we wasn't always at our best because we were tired. We couldn't press people as we normally would. The girls were fighting fatigue and were mentally drained. A lot of things were going on. People hitting them really hard about the Olympics. It was tough."

Add to that was the infighting back home within the Nigeria basketball federation, with elections into the board looming.

"What would you think would happen if they made up their minds to do something weird like work together? If we are doing this now, what do you think we could if they could just stop fighting," Hughely added.

"I am at an age now where it is just another win for me. But I am humbled by these ladies -- what they were able to do, how they were able to do it. I am very proud of them."

Nigeria's next step is the qualifiers for the FIBA World Cup. Both Nigeria and Mali have qualified for the tournament, but Hughely is unhappy about the format.

"This tournament used to qualify you automatically to the World Cup. Now, all of a sudden, they are trying to weed teams out and I know the reason why. They just want to take Africa out. Because all those countries that have been in FIBA forever are complaining that African teams never win, so why are they in. So they come up with this format. And then we came out and messed them up at the last World Cup."

"My job is to get them to the World Cup. I don't know what I will do after that. I don't look that far ahead. I only look one tournament ahead -- that's it. You get them to the World Cup then you start to think about it. It's their job, as a federation, to think down the road. Mine is to win the next game."