Ulinzi Warriors are back and ready to fight for the Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) men’s Premier League title they last won in 2015.
In the most dramatic series for the soldiers in recent times, Ulinzi proved it is not always over until the Fat Lady sings as they came from two games down to win the best-of-five semi-final playoffs 3-2.
After Game One and Two wins by the Shauri Moyo-based Thunder, many had written off the soldiers but they made an incredible come back to silence the naysayers.
John Washika’s shot at the buzzer handed his team a lifeline as Game Three ended 93-91 in favour of the military side.
“During the first two matches, we were out of our element. We, however, went back to the drawing board and worked on our defence and offence and things worked,” said Ulinzi coach William Balozi.
As if their lives depended on it, the Warriors turned up for Game Four and handed Thunder a 98-65 loss to send the series to the wire.
A good start for the soldiers in Game Five handed them the crucial win. After playing for 29-19 in the first period, Balozi’s charges lost the second and third quarters 20-11 and 25-23 before winning the final period 22-16 for a 85-80 final count.
“We outrun ourselves in the first quarter and the exhaustion caught up with us. I am, however, happy that we held on for this comeback which was long overdue,” added an elated Balozi.
Ulinzi booked a ticket to the 2019 FIBA Zone Five Club Championship where they will fight for the title they lost in the 2016 finals to Uganda’s Oilers. The win also pits them against KBF title holders Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) for the local league title.
The soldiers will now take on defending champions KPA in the finals after the dockers won 3-1 over last season’s finalist Strathmore Blades.
The two teams last faced each other in the 2014 final and while Ulinzi have shown that they will be no pushovers, KPA will be seeking a third consecutive gong.
Victory against Strathmore was not without incident, however as the students walked away from the court in Game Four with two seconds remaining, protesting a penalty for three technical fouls.
KPA coach Sammy Kiki, whose side were one basket up at the time, is unmoved by Strathmore’s protests and only focusing on the final.
“We are preparing for the finals as we expect nothing to change the outcome of that match. We are focusing on defence and stamina as Ulinzi are a very physical side and have the advantage of training together” said Kiki.