Basketball Africa League (BAL) fans couldn’t have asked for a more intriguing semifinal on Wednesday in Kigali.
US Monastir and Zamalek, the two finalists from last year, are set to trade blows for the right to return to the most important game of the BAL calendar.
The defending champions Zamalek are aware that they need to do better to retain their title while US Monastir look more confident than ever before.
Zamalek reached the semis after an expressive 66-49 victory over SLAC.
US Monastir, meanwhile, overcame Cape Town Tigers 106-67 in the Quarterfinals.
US Monastir is probably Zamalek’s toughest test in the current BAL campaign.
Despite remaining as the only undefeated team this season, Zamalek are trying to restart from where they finished a month ago.
In a recent post-game interview Zamalek head coach Will Voigt revealed that his BAL squad hasn’t played together since the Nile Conference held in Cairo in April.
That’s due to the restriction of import players in Egypt’s Super League, which allows only one non-Egyptian player per team. That spot was filled in by Edgar Sosa. DJ Strawberry Jr, Ike Diogu and Mikhael McKinney re-joined Zamalek for the Kigali showdown.
Zamalek fell short to Al Etthiad in the Super League Semi-Finals right after the Nile Conference.
On Wednesday May 25, will be almost a year (May, 28, 2021) since Zamalek outplayed US Monastir at Kigali Arena to become the first winner of the BAL.
US Monastir are headed to the semis on the back of a 5-1 mark, which dates back to the Sahara Conference held in Dakar in March.
For Zamalek to remain as the only team that has never tasted defeat in the BAL history, Voigt acknowledged that things must change quickly.
“We understand that we better get there quickly or Monastir is going to destroy us,” said the man who can become the first head coach to win the BAL and a FIBA AfroBasket title.
“We haven’t played a game with this group since Cairo. I wish we had test matches before we came in here.”
Voigt who guided Nigeria to their only African championship title in 2015, admitted that in terms of the bigger picture, “Getting to the finals, winning the finals, that’s never been our approach. Ours has been one game at a time.”
Another concern for Zamalek is former AfroBasket MVP Ike Diogu, who was brilliant during the Nile Conference.
“Ike, an important player for us, is out with an injury. We weren’t any way close to the level that we were in Cairo,” Voigt said.
“We understand that Monastir is a really, really good team. If we play the same way we played today [against SLAC] we’ll lose.”
WHAT THE NUMBERS SHOW
Both teams kept most of their squads from last year, but Souleyam Diabate switched allegiances.
The Ivorian international player was vital for Zamalek last season, but he has since joined US Monastir.
A thorough look into the numbers of both teams, and it reveals how evenly-matched this clash could be.
US Monastir display a relatively higher Field-Goal percentage (47.8) compared to Zamalek’s 43.6.
Even when it comes to rebounding the difference is close with Monastir averaging 41.5 boards against Zamalek’s 40.5 per game.
US Monastir averaged 84 points per game against Zamalek’s 85.
DIFFERENCE MAKERS FOR EITHER TEAM
Ater Majok has been fundamental for US Monastir throughout this BAL season.
The 6-foot-11 center has averaged a tournament-high of 12.5 rebounds per game.
Majok is the only player in post-season to average 2.7 blocks per game, but he is closely followed by Zamalek’s Anas Mahmoud who recorded 2.3 block shots in the previous six games.
Offensively, Edgar has been Zamalek’s x-factor averaging a team-high of 18 points per game.
When the Republic Dominican international player finds his rhythm, he is a threat to any opponent, and that’s what he’s promised to do to improve from his subpar performance against SLAC.
Majok and Mahmoud have powered their teams offensive and defensively.
At 7-foot of height, Mahmoud is slightly taller than Majok, and with a percentage of 68.3 he leads the league in 2-pt percentage. Majok comes second with a 66.7 2-pt percentage.
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT THE GAME
“Hopefully, we’ll shoot the ball a lot better [against Monastir].” – Zamalek center Anas Mahmoud.
“I feel fully confident on my team. We work hard together and we have a good chemistry. Everything depends on us. We don’t have selfish players on this team. This is a good for us.There’s no revenge in sport. One bad day can affect the game. That’s how we lost last year. We learned a lot from that game.” – US Monastir captain Radhouane Slimane.