By Spy Uganda
The atmosphere at the Gymansae Couvert D’Antsirabe was electric on Saturday afternoon as the Madagascar team was making their second appearance in the FIBA U18 Women’s African Championship.
Unfortunately the opening Group A encounter against Uganda did not go according to script for the hosts, as they lost a thrilling encounter 59-54.
The odds should have favoured the home team, as Uganda arrived on Friday and had to make the six-hour trip from the capital Antananarivo to Antsirabe. Instead the Malagasy found an Uganda battle hardened by the adversity.
Led by centre Sarah Namale’s double-double (11 points and 16 rebounds), a team high 18 points from forward Diana Letaru, who was also superb from behind the arc (4 for 8), this Ugandan team packed a serious punch, which Madagascar felt.
On the Madagascar side Marion Rosolofoson’s game-high 19 points and Kristina Rakotobe’s 18 points were not enough deliver the much desired victory.
Letaru, who would finish the first half with 11 points, was the heart of the team’s attack. Her teammate Namale did the dirty-work of cleaning up at the boards as she finished with 11 first half rebounds.
Shooting guard Rasolofoson’s, kept Madagascar in the encounter with 10 points and forward Rakotobe’s nine points kept the team in the encounter.
The two teams battled each other like heavy weight boxers in the second quarter, with Madagascar staging fight back. Rasolofoson, who looked comfortable on the ball all game landed a three pointer to put them within one point (20-21) and a free throw made by Justine Rahariarivony levelled the scores.
Uganda’s Letaru was a constant threat and landed a three pointer from a Sharifa Nalwadda assist. A three point play by Darlene Tashobya stretched the lead further (27-21) for Uganda, who went up 29-23 in the first half.
The second half had a similar theme as the first, with Madagascar attempting to stage a dramatic comeback, especially in the third quarter. Rosolofoson, who was a live-wire scored six points to make it a one point game (30-29), but Uganda still had the lead.
A Joanie Rakotononohary’s three-pointer temporarily gave the Malagasy a short lived lead (34-32), but a single free throw and a three pointer from Nalwadda stretched the lead (54-46) for Uganda.
Uganda coach Zumrati Ali Mavita explained that immediately when they arrived in Antsirabe, she and her staff ensured the players got their necessary rest.
“Yesterday (Friday) we arrived really late and we made sure the players got as much rest as possible. They put their feet up, put the phones away and that they get as much as sleep as they can, so that could be ready for today,” said Mavita, who reflected on the game. “I told the players, this was going to be one of the biggest games in the tournaments and to expect a big crowd. They kept their eyes on the opposition and not on the crowd. They stuck together and that’s how we got the win.”