Nigeria snaps streak, finishes 11th

Updated: August 24, 2004, 6:25 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Players ran to midcourt and jumped into each other's arms. The hugging and screaming lasted several minutes.

No Olympic medal at stake, just a winless streak.

For the first time, a team representing Africa won a game in women's basketball when Nigeria beat South Korea 68-64 on Tuesday and broke an 0-18 mark.

"This was a major, major win. We came here with one goal and that was to win one game,'' said former NBA player Sam Vincent, whose team grabbed 11th place in the 12-team tournament. "We won one game. Maybe next time we'll win three games. You have to start somewhere.''

Africa began participating in women's basketball in 1996. Zaire went 0-7 in Atlanta. Senegal was 0-6 in 2000.

Nigeria lost its five preliminary-round games in Athens by an average of 17.4 points. The closest was a six-point loss to Japan, the worst a 35-point blowout to Russia.

"The ladies hung in there, dug down, showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart,'' Vincent said.

The best of the players by far was Mfon Udoka, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds against South Korea. The former Houston Comets forward finished the preliminary round averaging 21.8 points, second only to Australia's Lauren Jackson (23.4). She averaged 10.2 rebounds, second to no one.

"This means a lot to a lot of people,'' Udoka said. "Hopefully, we can get better and compete with the rest of the world.''

This Nigerian team had some other players with a U.S. basketball background. Umoh Itoro-Coleman played at Clemson and is now an assistant coach there. Rashidat Sadiq, who played at Central Arizona Junior College, has signed with three-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut.

Vincent, who began working with African teams in 1997 in South Africa, feels the program he joined in 2003 is the future of basketball on the continent.

"I'll be coaching the men's team in four years in Beijing and hopefully there we'll get that first win and start like we have here,'' said the former guard from Michigan State who played on the Boston Celtics' 1986 NBA championship team.

Kim Yeong-ok had 19 points for South Korea (0-6), which finished fourth in 2000.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press