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Late arrival Opong provides help needed for Davies to lead Uganda
BENGUELA (Angola) - Robinson Opong proved to be just what the doctor ordered as the veteran's late arrival at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers came just in time for Uganda to grab their first win.
Opong poured in 17 points including 3 three-pointers to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in helping Uganda fend off Cape Verde 77-74 in a back-and-forth thriller to improve to 1-1 in Group A.
The 32-year-old missed Uganda's opening game in Angola for undisclosed reasons and the team ended up losing 76-66 to Mali.
After the win over Cape Verde, Opong said: "Just the circumstances we were in as a group made it difficult for me to get here on time for the game. I wish I would have been there to help my guys, but it wasn't possible."
Opong showed late in the Uganda game the veteran leadership of playing in two FIBA AfroBaskets as well as the 2019 World Cup African Qualifiers.
After scoring consistently all game, grabbing rebounds and setting up his teams, he grabbed two big steals in the final 46 seconds to help secure the win.
"Coming here, it's a quick turnaround. I got here late last night and I wasn't going to dwell on what I can't control. I came here to play and focus on what I can control, my energy and it was just bring everything I have for Uganda," he said.
Opong was Uganda's second-leading scorer in the game as Brandon Davies picked up 27 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
And Opong's absence was felt in the loss to Mali, in which Davies collected 24 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks. Titus Odeke did score 12 points and Eric Rwahwire added 11 points, but the leadership of someone like Opong was missing.
After the Mali loss, Uganda coach Mandy Juruni said: "I'm not surprised (about Davies). He had a big game for us. I think he did what we expected from him. Definitely the other players have to step up. This is a team game. It's not going to be easy for us if it's going to be one or two players. So we have to make sure that everyone steps in and contributes."
Opong certainly helped do the trick for a team that has four players aged 22 or younger on the roster.
"I think yesterday we were a bit rusty and I saw so many things that we didn't do right. Most of those things were not basketball related but more mindset. I think today the focus and effort were really good compared to yesterday. That’s what won us the game," Juruni said.
That focus and effort also had to do with the arrival of Opong - just in time.