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BAL gears up to crown champions as semifinals begin

The teams that will play in the semifinals of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) inaugural season have been decided and both games will be played on Saturday 29 May.

The tournament began with 12 teams, starting with group stage games which progressed into quarter-final-qualifying games which then progressed into the knockout stage where winners went to the semifinals and losers were sent home.

The four teams, vying for positions in the much-anticipated finals on Sunday are Petro de Luanda, representing Angola; Zamalek representing Egypt; Patriots BBC, who are the home team representing Rwanda and US Monastir playing for Tunisia. 

After a fiercely fought game, Petro de Luanda defeated AS Salé 79-72, keeping them undefeated (4-0) in the BAL, and securing their spot in the semifinals.

After his team’s victory, Petro de Luanda head coach José Neto spoke to the Mail & Guardian about what kept his team in the game.

“[Spirit] in decision games is very important … The spirit is most important. I believe in these guys. Day by day, each practice is very important to build this concentration and motivation.”

The team will face Egypt’s Zamalek, who blew out Cameroon’s Forces Armées et Police Basketball 82-53 to punch their ticket to the semis. After their win, coach Agustin Bosch told the M&G about his approach going into the semis: “The next level is going to [need] mental preparation … defensive performance is the key of our game, we will have to adjust … It’s going to be different if we face Petro or if we face Salé. Overall, the work has been done previously and here in the practices … [we mostly will] work on some adjustments, mostly defensively.”

The third team to qualify for the semifinals was US Monastir who beat AS Douanes, from Senegal, 86-62 thereby also remaining undefeated after four games. 

Monastir, like Petro de Luanda and Zamalek, is generally a highly regarded team but is most frequently referenced in premature conversations about which teams will make the finals. Asked about how he manages these expectations for his team, head coach Mounir Ben Slimen told the M&G: “We already split our goal into three different parts. The first part was to go through the group stage. The second part is the road to the finals … we don’t think about [the final and] who will be our opponent. We think about the road to the final and the road to the final means we have to win this semifinal.”

His team will face the fourth and last team to qualify for the semi finals in the home team Patriots Basketball Club, who have exceeded the expectations of many by making it to this point and are the surprise semifinalists, if any team is to be given such a label.

The Patriots narrowly etched out their opponents Ferroviário de Maputo, of Mozambique, in a game that was decided in the final few seconds of the game which concluded in a 73-71 scoreline. 

“Our expectations were to do everything we could to be the last team playing on Sunday. So, as far as what we’re trying to do, we’re right on schedule. Outside expectations, you can’t really control those,” Head coach of the home team Alan Major told the M&G when asked about whether his team met or exceeded expectations. “Moving forward, we still think we can play better, that’s the one thing I’m encouraged by … There’s a lot of things we can still improve on. What’s positive about it is we were able to win but we still can learn and I still don’t know if we’ve played our best basketball yet, so I think that’s still ahead of us.”

After both afternoon games on Saturday, the finals will be played on Sunday afternoon at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda’s capital. 

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