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Nigeria snaps streak, finishes 11th

8/24/2004

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.