Nigeria's Evelyn Akhator sets sights on Tokyo Olympics

Breanna Stewart and the USA got the better of Evelyn Akhator and Nigeria in the quarter-finals of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Spain. JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

Basiktas forward Evelyn Akhator, the standout performer for the Nigeria women's basketball team at the recently-concluded FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Spain, has set her sights on another AfroBasket title... and then the Olympics.

The University of Kentucky product was named one of the outstanding players of the tournament, scoring more double-doubles in points and rebounds than any other player at the event, and at her first major global competition too.

Before the trip to Spain, Nigeria had never won a FIBA World Cup match, but beat Turkey, Greece, and Argentina, before losing to eventual tournament winners the USA in the quarter-finals.

The former Dallas Wings draftee (3rd overall in 2017) says the team has every reason to be proud of their efforts, following their record-setting performance for an African team, but insists they are now hungry for more.

Akhator told KweséESPN: "We made a lot of history. It is something we should be proud of, hold our heads up high.

"We hope and pray that we can improve on that at the next Olympics [in 2020 in Tokyo] and create more history. Just like at the FIBA World Cup, Nigeria Women have never won a game at the Olympics.

"Our immediate goal, though, is to make it back-to-back wins at the AfroBasket next year. The World Cup feeling is one we will never forget, but that has gone into history now."

These laudable goals in mind, she acknowledges there is much room for improvement: "We are aware there were lapses in our game; we made mistakes.

"The plan is to work on the lapses, correct the mistakes and come back stronger next year. No matter how great a team is, there are always things to correct, and it is the same with our group.

"One of our major failing points, is that we tend to give up in the fourth quarter. When we are trailing, we tend to give up. That was what affected us against the United States; we fought hard in the first half, but gave up when things turned in the second half of the game."

That lapse in concentration repeated itself all through the campaign. They trailed by 11 at the half against Australia in the first game, cut the deficit to 9 points by the end of the third quarter, but ended up losing by 18 points.

And even in the victorious games against Turkey, Argentina and Greece, D'Tigress still ended up as the team with the worse record in the fourth quarter.

But beyond that, the team was undone by the inability to master a basic aspect of the game, namely Free Throws.

"One thing that killed us was the Free Throws; it affected us all through the tournament, and was also responsible for our loss to the Canadians [in the classification games]," Akhator said, and the numbers backed up her confession.

D'Tigress had their best moments from the charity stripe against Turkey, when they made 85.2 percent of the throws. Apart from that game, they hovered around 62 percent, and actually made just 40 percent from the line against USA, and just 60 percent against Canada.

They were also the smallest team in terms of size at the tournament, and 6ft3in Akhator insisted it affected their play: "We were the smallest team competing at the World Cup, even though we made the loudest noise.

"I am proud of the team and the accomplishments, but we hope to have bigger players in future, so we can compete better."

That is all but guaranteed, with Lagos-born Felicia Aiyeotan, a 6'9 phenom who is currently a Junior at Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA, and Christina Aborowa, the 6'5 freshman at Texas Longhorns, lined up to feature for D'Tigress.

Akhator, who currently plays for Turkish side Besiktas, concluded by confirming the determination to keep working hard: "You can be sure that we will keep our heads up high, and keep working hard to get better; we are not going to relax."