29 June, 2019
07 July
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U18 Africa Look back: Mali capture first title over successful returnees Senegal

The FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 will be here before we all know it. To get ready, here a look back at the four qualifying tournaments.

HERAKLION (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019/FIBA U18 African Championship 2018) - Mali faced the pressure of being hosts and major favorites of the FIBA U18 African Championship 2018, and Siriman Kanoute and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly helped Mali live up to the expectations and claim their first U18 continental crown with a hard-fought win in the Final over a Senegal team making a triumphant return to the competition.

Coming into the tournament, Mali had been on the verge of becoming the leading force in youth African basketball after winning the FIBA U16 African Championship 2017 crown and taking second place in the U16 event in 2015 while grabbing third place at the U18 level in 2014 and 2016. And the home basketball community has been rallying around the teams as the Malian capital Bamako was hosting a youth continental spectacle for the second time following the U16 African Championship in 2015.

The Palais des Sports Salamatou Maiga in Bamako saw history this summer.

Mali have yet to excel at the senior level with the last FIBA AfroBasket top-four finish dating back to 1999. But it seems only a question of time before the talents work their way into the country’s top team.

One thing was certain about this Mali group. It was a talented team with lots of international experience, with six players having played at least one youth World Cup or continental championship. Coulibaly and Aboubacar Djire both lost to Egypt in the Final of the FIBA U16 African Championship 2015 with Coulibaly playing at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup in 2016. Martin Diakite appeared on the team at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 while Kanoute, Oumar Ballo and Mohamed Keita helped Mali to their first-ever youth continental crown by taking the FIBA U16 African Championship 2017 and then played in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 as well.

Add that group of talent to the team hosting the event and Mali were the clear-cut favorites for the U18 titles with the top challengers being the reigning champions Angola, the 2008, 2010 and 204 winners Egypt and Senegal, the latter returning to the competition for the first time since 2012 when it won the title over Ivory Coast but then forfeited the crown over an age fraud scandal.

Group play’s most important games saw Mali blow out Egypt 93-47 in Group A while the first day of action in Group B was highlighted by Senegal surviving Angola 77-76. Those results put Senegal and Egypt on the other side of the bracket - setting up a Semi-Finals date after Quarter-Finals wins over Libya and Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively - while Angola reached the final four after a victory against Rwanda with Mali brushing aside Tunisia in the final eight.

With a berth at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 in the balance, Egypt were leading over Senegal 68-58 with less than 5 minutes left in regulation and still by 8 points with 3 minutes left. But Amar Sylla came up with a three-point play, Jean-Jacques Boissy scored four points and Biram Faye nailed a three-pointer with 26 seconds left in regulation to force overtime - 72-72. Boissy scored 7 points and Faye hit another three-pointer to make it 88-80 with 1 minute left and Senegal ended up winning 91-82. Faye had 24 points, 19 rebounds and 2 blocks, Cheikh Faye added 17 points, Boissy flirted with a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists and Sylla had 9 points and 10 rebounds.

Mali for their part put Angola away in the second quarter and never let things get interesting with an 84-59 win to reach the Final - Kanoute with 21 points, Hassan Drame picking up 15 points and Coulibaly collecting 14 points, 24 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks.

A record crowd of 5,000 packed the Palais des Sports Salamatou Maiga expecting Mali to finish their perfect run to the title, especially since they won their previous seven games by an average of 54.7 points. But Senegal had put together a 7-0 record until that point as well, with an averaging winning margin of 15.4 points including two nail-biters. And Senegal had plenty of talent themselves with Faye, Sylla, Mouhamed Sow, Cheikh Diop and Khadim Fall all playing in Spain while Jim Augustin Latyr Gietz Thiam is German-Senegalese and was nominated for both the German U16 and U18 teams in the past. And Boissy plays with the NBA Academy Africa.

Senegal got back to the FIBA U18 African Championship and showed their have the talent to challenge for the title.

The home fans looked to be in for another easy one as Mali opened a 41-28 lead late in the second quarter. It was still an 11-point lead early in the third quarter but Senegal went on a 19-6 surge to go up 53-51. In the final 8 minutes of the game there were five lead changes and six ties as each team came up with an answer whenever the other thought it had delivered a knockout punch.

Coulibaly made it 76-74 with 34 seconds left and then Boissy turned it over with 28 seconds to play, leaving Diakite to split two free throws with 13.5 seconds left for a 77-74 Mali lead. Faye hit at the other end to make it a 1-point game with 5.4 seconds remaining. Hassan Drame split two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left and Senegal could not get a shot off, sending Mali and the home fans into celebrations with a 78-76 win.

So, what can be expected from Mali and Senegal at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 in Heraklion from June 29-July 7?

The best-ever showing by an African team was 11th place - accomplished three times by Nigeria and twice by Egypt. Mali will be making their third appearance in the tournament following 2007 and 2017. They went 1-4 in 2007 with a win over Puerto Rico to finish 15th while Mali were 0-7 and finished 16th in 2017. Senegal beat South Korea and had a 1-5 record in taking 16th place in their only U19 World Cup showing in 2013.

Martin Diakite did not get a victory with Mali at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017. He will get a second chance at the 2019 U19 World Cup.

Mali are on the verge of becoming a power in Africa and Senegal are back on the map on the continent. But both will have to step up their game if they want to open eyes at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019.