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How BAL’S Sahara conference action is unfolding in Dakar

THE Sahara Conference of the fourth season of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) is in full swing in Dakar. Here's a summary of how teams have performed in the first half of the conference matches.

AS BAL’s Sahara Conference gets underway at the Dakar Arena in Senegal, the first round saw professional basketball clubs from Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Tunisia vying for direct playoff berths.

Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers are topping conference standings with a commanding third consecutive victory in the group stage. Their latest triumph, an 84-63 win over Tunisia’s US Monastir, follows a hard-fought 86-82 triumph against Rwanda’s Armée Patriotique Rwandaise (APR) and a 77-68 victory against hosts AS Douanes in the tipoff match.

With an unbeaten record in hand, the Hoopers head into the second half of the group stage with confidence beginning Thursday, May 9 when they take on AS Douanes before they face Rwanda’s APR on Saturday, May 11 and US Monastir on the last day of the conference, Sunday, May 12.

In a statement, NBA Africa attributed Hoopers success to excellent team organization throughout its matches.

“Hoopers outrebounded Monastir 45-35, shot the ball better and were more disciplined with their offence, with Kelvin Amayo being the star of the game. He recorded 30 points and nine assists,” the NBA Africa statement detailed.

Other stars on the Hoopers side include Devine Eke who got 13 points and 12 rebounds, Will Perry added 19 points and nine assists, and Peter Olisemeka finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Hoopers.

Following closely behind the Hoopers are Rwanda’s APR, who clinched the second spot in the standings after securing a hard-fought 66-61 victory over hosts AS Douanes despite facing a raucous home crowd.

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Shining stars in the match against the hosts include Obadiah Noel who scored 24 points for APR besides grabbing eight rebounds. Jean Jacques Boissy led in the AS Douanes side with 14 points, six rebounds and 11 assists.

Despite surrendering to the Hoopers pressure, debutants APR had in their tip-off match secured an 89-84 victory against US Monastir in a tightly-fought overtime nail-biter.

This was a dream start for APR, with Adonis Filer and Obadiah Noel combining for 48 points, and Axel Mpoyo adding 15 points and 7 rebounds on a night where the team struggled to make shots, but made up for it defensively forcing Monastir’s 20 turnovers.

Notably, APR’s excellence is apparent even in instances where they lost, they staged a spirited fight from start to end.

In their Sunday defeat to Hoopers, for instance, NBA Africa describes it as “a game of will throughout, with both sides exchanging baskets down the stretch, but it was the Hoopers who were celebrating at the final whistle.”

Elsewhere, 2022 BAL season champions US Monastir have had a slow start in this year’s season losing all their three matches forcing them at the bottom in the first round.

Remarking about their team’s poor performance, Monastir guard Oussama Marnaogui believes the stiff competition this season and gaps in his team are to blame.

“It’s both, the opponents and us. We are not as good as we were in the BAL (in) season 2. Teams here keep getting better and better every year,” he told the BAL news team in a post-match interview.

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Regardless, the team has shown the excellence of some of its stars such as Sadio Doucoure and Dikembe Mutombo, who secured 21 and 12 points respectively in the match against the Rwandans.

As attention turns to the second round of conference matches, all eyes are on hosts AS Douanes, who seek to improve upon their third-place standing with a single victory thus far. With a packed schedule ahead, including matchups against APR, Hoopers, and US Monastir, AS Douanes faces immense pressure to deliver results on home turf.

The second round of matches returns this Thursday, May 9, after Wednesday’s rest. Some of the scheduled matches include APR vs US Monastir at 4 pm before Hoopers take on hosts AS Douanes at 7 pm two days before they face APR on Saturday. US Monastir and AS Douanes will also clash on Saturday. On the final day, Sunday 12, Hoopers and the Tunisians will square out before hosts AS Douanes face APR in the final match of the conference.

Besides BAL games airing in 214 countries and territories in 17 languages through free-to-air and paid TV broadcast partnerships, all matches are live-streamed on the NBA App, NBA.com, BAL.NBA.com and BAL’s YouTube channel.

Following the conference stage, the playoffs in Kigali await the top two teams from each conference, along with the best two third-placed teams. The playoffs feature four seeding games, followed by an intense eight-game, single-elimination streak. The journey culminates in the finals at the BK Arena, slated between May 24 and June 1.

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