BNL 2020-2021 Opening Weekend

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BNL 2020-2021

Nicole of the Tshwane Suns (pink) in action against Soweto Panthers during their teams’ Basketball National League encounter at Wembley Arena in Johannesburg.

The Basketball National League is back!

The 2020/2021 BNL season got underway at Wembley Arena on Saturday, 5 December 2020 amidst restrictions imposed by COVID-19. The season opener saw the first match of the much anticipated Women’s League. What a glorious moment it was to see the ladies donning their BNL jerseys and playing their first semi-professional women’s basketball match in South Africa. The Soweto Panthers ladies hosted Tshwane Suns ladies in a game that started off slow; but by halftime, the jitters were out of the way as the ladies shook off the rust and settled in to play a more efficient style of basketball. Led by veteran forward Pumla Sathula’s prowess, the Tshwane Suns came out strong in the 2nd half and put the raging young Soweto Panthers at bay with a final score of 29-48. Pumla filled up the stats sheet with 9 points, 12 rebounds and 6 steals, with solid contribution from teammate Josefina Gomez who led all scorers with 12 points.

The Panthers ladies were led by Thando Mbuthuma who recorded 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Her running mate, Nyeleti Nyathi grabbed a whopping 14 rebounds and 2 steals to help the Sowetans stay competitive.

Caption 1
Thando (white) of the Soweto Panthers drives to the basket against Tshwane Suns in Wembley Arena in Johannesburg.

The Head Coach of the Soweto Panthers Women’s Team Nosipho Njokweni remarked “I’m very pleased with the way we played considering that we have the youngest players without much experience, I was really impressed with how they held themselves down on the court. Going forward to our second game, we need to prepare, fix our mistakes, fix our transition defense as we need to win that game.”

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Tshwane Suns bench during a timeout at Wembley Arena in Johannesburg.

“I would characterise the first game as historic and a positive step in growing women's basketball in South Africa. The game itself was indicative of a couple of things, the long layoff due to Covid-19 restrictions, short preparation time and the lack of high-level competition in the women's game. The Suns team played with heart and grit but certainly not anywhere near a settled nor polished performance. There are enough positive building blocks from this game to take into the preparations this week” added Nthato Selebi- head coach of the Tshwane Suns Women team.

The introduction of the women’s league is a milestone achievement for the Basketball National League who have responded to the need to make the game accessible to all and aim to bridge the gap between the men and their women counterpart. With this launch, young girls at high school and varsity will have something to aspire to. According to the General Manager of the League Mr Dali Dzingwa, “Our goal is to expand the league to all 9 provinces to afford more young women the opportunity to ply their trade at the pro level. This is just the beginning and we are committed to playing our part in growing the game.”

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A cross-section of the Wembley Indoor Arena in Johannesburg during the BNL Women’s match between the Soweto Panthers and Tshwane Suns.

The men took to the floor in the second game of the day which pitched the Soweto Panthers against the Free State Warriors who had just returned to the League following a few years of absence. The Panthers came out of the gate with the same fitness and intensity that they displayed during last year’s final, they pressured the Warriors from start to finish and by halftime, they had opened up a 43-19 points lead. The Warriors’ second half push was not enough as the Panthers stretched their lead and put the game away with a 72-40 final score. Christian Kabasele of the Panthers led all scorers with 17 points, while Job Mashwabathi led the Warriors with 9 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Caption 5
Given (blue) of the Soweto Panthers (Men) attempts a jump shot against the Free State Warriors at Wembley Arena in Johannesburg.

To culminate the opening weekend action, the Panthers and Warriors faced off once again on Sunday. This contest held true to form to Saturday's contest, with the Soweto Panthers enforcing a stifling press defense to capitalise offensively and obtain the victory by a margin of 85-55. Kagiso Terry posted 17 points in game for Free State. While Gleen Clarence Bidza Bi Akoulou contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds alongside Lehlogonolo Tholo's 13 points and 6 assists in the win for Soweto.

The BNL Men's and Women's divisions will be in action this upcoming weekend. Tune in to SuperSport for all the exciting action.

Follow us on our social media platforms: @BNLSA on Twitter and Instagram and Basketball National League on Facebook to stay up to date.

#BNL2020 #FeelTheHeat

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