EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BASKETBALL AFRICA LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS

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The battle for the Basketball Africa League’s (BAL) top prize has come down to the four teams vying to make the first-ever BAL final.

The two semi-finals games are scheduled for Saturday, May 29 at Kigali Arena in Rwanda.

In the first game, Egypt’s Zamalek will go up against Petro de Luanda of Angola. Afterward, Tunisian champions US Monastir will take on the 2021 BAL hosts Patriots BBC.

After 22 BAL games, eight teams have been eliminated: AS Police (Mali), FAP (Cameroon), AS Salé (Morocco), GNBC (Madagascar), AS Douanes (Senegal), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria), GSP (Algeria) and Ferroviario de Maputo (Mozambique).

So, here is everything you need to know about the BAL semi-finals:

Can Zamalek return to a continental final for the first time in 22 years?

Zamalek vs. Petro de Luanda (Saturday, May 29, 2:00pm GMT+2)

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ZAMALEK

BAL RECORD and HOW THEY REACHED THE SEMIS: The Egyptian outfit reached the last four of the BAL undefeated at 4-0.

Zamalek, which had an automatic qualification to the BAL, closed its Group C campaign with three wins over Ferroviario de Maputo, GSP and AS Douanes then defeated FAP 82-53 in the quarterfinals.

The winners of the 1992 FIBA Africa Champions Cup haven’t had much continental success since they finished runner-up in 1998. However, Zamalek has been a self-proclaimed BAL title contender since Day 1 of the competition in Kigali.

BIGGEST CONCERN AHEAD OF THE SEMI-FINALS:

Walter Hodge has been Zamalek’s go-to man. But with 15.5 points per game, the two-time NCAA champion and Virgin Island international player is the only Zamalek player to average double digits in points.

Anas Mahmoud is one of Zamalek’s key players, but he has been a bit inconsistent during the tournament. Another big concern is Zamalek’s free-throw percentage, which stands at 58.2%. A title contender needs to be better from the charity stripe.

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT ZAMALEK:

Usually when reserves Chinemelu Elonu, Souleyman Diabate and Michael Fakuade come off the bench they tend to turn things around for Zamalek. Perhaps it’s time for coach Agustin Julbe to readjust his starting line-up.

THEIR PLAYOFF CEILING:

As Zamalek players and coaching staff have said all along, they are, “in Kigali to win the BAL title.”

ONE STAT TO WATCH:

Zamalek has limited its four opponents to 58.5 points per game.

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PETRO DE LUANDA

BAL RECORD and HOW THEY REACHED THE SEMIS: Just like Zamalek, the Luanda-based team reached the last four of the BAL undefeated by way of a 4-0 mark.

Jose Neto’s team came out Group B – the so-called “group of death” – with three wins in as many games.

They beat FAP, AS Police and upset AS Salé twice, once in the group stages before beating the 2017 FIBA Africa Champions winners again in the quarter-finals (79-72).

The two-time FIBA Africa Champions Cup winners were one of six teams that benefited from an automatic qualification to the BAL.

BIGGEST CONCERN AHEAD OF THE SEMI-FINALS:

Petro de Luanda seems to have difficulty maintaining big leads. They also average 21 turnovers, a poor mark for a team chasing the BAL title.

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT PETRO DE LUANDA:

The Angolan champions aren’t new to this type of competition. Their roster comprises some of the most experienced players in the African basketball landscape.

Petro de Luanda’s bench has been consistent and productive.

THEIR PLAYOFF CEILING:

Coach Neto tends to emphasise that his team is taking one game at a time.
Petro de Luanda may have been seeded at No.3, but it has the potential to compete for the BAL trophy.

ONE STAT TO WATCH:

Three-point shooting is one of Petro de Luanda’s strongest assets. It has made more three-pointers (43) than any other BAL semi-finalist. The team sank 14 three-pointers against AS Salé, one fewer than US Monastir’s 15 against Rivers Hoopers.

US Monastir arrived in Kigali to win it all

Union Sportive Monastirienne vs. Patriots BBC (Saturday, May 29, 5:30pm GMT+2)

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US MONASTIR

BAL RECORD and HOW THEY REACHED THE SEMIS: The Monastir-based team dispatched its four opponents by an average of 25 points per game. Its smallest winning margin (91-75) came against its semi-finalist opponent Patriots BBC.

US Monastir, which qualified automatically to the BAL, reached the semi-finals undefeated at4-0. They beat Rivers Hoopers, GNBC and Patriots BBC in the group phase then defeated No. 8 seeded AS Douanes in the quarterfinals.

This is a familiar position for US Monastir. Four years ago, the team from the coastal country of Tunisia was undefeated going into the semi-finals of the 2017 FIBA Africa Champions. But they lost to Tunisian rivals Etoile Sportive Rades and finished third in the tournament, its best result in a FIBA Africa competition.

BIGGEST CONCERN AHEAD OF THE SEMI-FINALS:

As the No. 1 seed, US Monastir can’t underestimate its opponent, which has been energized playing in front of a large, enthusiastic home crowd.

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT US MONASTIR:

US Monastir’s impressive ball movement has been a factor in its unbeaten run. Having bigs like Makrem Ben Romdhane and Majoc James who can shoot from beyond the arc is a huge bonus.

US Monastir not only holds the record for most three-pointers made in a single BAL game (15), it also averages the highest points per game (93) among the BAL semi-finalists.

Seven US Monastir players have represented the Tunisian national team at some point.
THEIR PLAYOFF CEILING:

They have never hidden it. The BAL trophy is US Monastir’s only goal in Kigali.

ONE STAT TO WATCH:

US Monastir averages the highest number of assists per game (27.5).

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PATRIOTS BBC

BAL RECORD and HOW THEY REACHED THE SEMIS: The only semi-finalist team that reached the BAL regular season via the FIBA-run BAL Qualifiers, the Patriots made it to the last four after finishing second in Group A behind US Monastir. The team accrued a 3-1 record in the group stages.

To reach the BAL semis, the hosts needed to overcome a stubborn Ferroviario de Maputo 73-71 on Thursday night.

BIGGEST CONCERN AHEAD OF THE SEMI-FINALS:

Brandon Costner’s scoring inconsistency is worrisome. His points have dropped each game, from 20 to 16 to 8 to 5.

The Patriots will need to protect the three-point line, play aggressive and prevent Wael Arakji from driving to the basket.

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT the PATRIOTS

Kenneth Gasana and Aristide Mugabe can hit threes at any given time and situation.

THEIR PLAYOFF CEILING:

At this stage of the competition, anything is possible.

ONE STAT TO WATCH:

If you’re careless with the ball, US Monastir makes you pay. The Patriots turned the ball over 17 times in their first meeting against US Monastir.