A barrier-breaking win
BANGKOK – The wave of recent athletic success for Mali continued on Wednesday, when the West African nation dominated previously-unbeaten Latvia, 67-34, in the Round of 16 at the FIBA Under-19 Women’s Basketball World Cup.
With the win, Mali becomes the first African nation to reach the quarterfinals of the event and will face Australia on Friday. Sika Kone, Mali’s 6-foot-3 center who turned 17 on July 13, scored 19 points and grabbed 22 rebounds – second most in the competition so far. The victory also comes two weeks after its men’s squad reached the final of the Under-19 World Cup in Greece, also unprecedented for an African team.
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The Latvian team Mali ripped apart was no cupcake. It won all three of its group stage games by double figures, including one over Canada. Its 6-foot-3 center, Laura Meldere, was averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds, the second-leading scorer in the tournament behind Korea’s Park Jihyun. Meldere was limited to six points in 25 minutes on Wednesday.
“We know very well (Meldere) is their best player,” Mali coach Amadou Bamba told High Post Hoops through a translator. “We organized our defense system on her, so she can’t play with us. We put (Kone) on her, so she could not score.”
French-speaking Mali was winless in its group stage games, falling to Argentina by three, China by 10, then a 69-40 drubbing to Belgium on Monday. It jumped on a 21-4 lead to ignite the Latvia game.
“I made the team manage its game,” Bamba said. “Some players were not really formed. The team of Belgium was superior to Mali, and that’s why we prepared our players for today’s game. Today’s game we wanted to win because we were fourth in the group, so we arrived with some motivation, so we made it possible for a win. That’s why we played well today.”
Also note that Mali’s soccer team upset Argentina to advance to the quarterfinals of the Men’s Under-20 World Cup in June. It’s women’s team was two goals away from qualifying for the recently-decided FIFA World Cup, and its senior men’s team won its group at the Africa Cup of Nations.
According to FIBA, the previous best finish by an African team at the Under-19 World Cup was 10th, by Mali in 1997. This is Mali’s fourth-consecutive appearance in the biennial event.
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