The horns used at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup are nontraditional. Instead of the buzzing noise typical of basketball games in the United States, these horns resemble that of a train. They’re shrill and jarring.
Yet, Sunday night in San Cristobal de la Laguna, Spain, Senegal fans and players alike were begging to hear it. Senegal clung to a one-point lead over Latvia late in the game and had to make one more defensive stand to secure a win. Latvia’s Elina Dikaioulaku hoisted a 3-point attempt which clanged off the front of the rim. That long-awaited horn finally sounded, and Senegal won, 70-69.
The horn acted as a starter pistol for the Senegal bench players as they raced off the bench. Players embraced, high-fived and fell to the hardwood. It was the first of two celebrations for African nations on an unprecedented day in the 65-year history of the tournament.
Senegal’s section of fans had been overwhelmed by Latvia noise for most of the game, but the chants and screams were uncontested when that horn sounded. Latvia, seeking its first pool play victory themselves, sat in silence as Senegal rejoiced.
The celebration intensified when the Senegal players greeted their fans. Players stopped for selfies and conversations with the fans who made the trip to support the team. So, what makes a victory so important to a team that has played in seven FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cups?
Senegal had never won a group phase game before Sunday. In 23 World Cup games, Senegal has won twice, both in the consolation bracket. One of these wins came in 1998 when Senegal defeated Argentina, 67-59, to advance to the 13th place game – a 74-70 loss to South Korea for a 14th place finish. The other came over Nigeria in 2006, a battle to avoid last place. Senegal won, 66-64, to finish 15th out of 16 teams.
Nigeria also hadn’t won a group phase game prior to Sunday in its FIBA Women’s World Cup history. Nigeria’s World Cup resume isn’t nearly as lengthy as Senegal’s. The only appearance came in 2006, the year Senegal beat them in the last place game.
Nigerian players caught wind of Senegal’s hallmark victory from the earlier sessions of the day. Nigeria was set to square off against Turkey in the last game on Sunday and they couldn’t let their rivals be the only ones to make history that evening.
Nigeria led Turkey by just four with 1:11 remaining in the game. Now it was Nigeria that could not wait for that horn. Though Nigeria’s fans didn’t travel as well as Senegal’s did, there was energy in the building and the excitement of an historic victory. Nigeria defeated Turkey, 74-68, for its first World Cup victory.
While Nigeria didn’t celebrate quite as hard as Senegal did, Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press heard the players say, “What do we eat for Thanksgiving dinner? Turkey.”
Going into the last day of group phase play, Nigeria and Senegal were positioned for a chance to play on Wednesday for a spot in a quarterfinal game, an accomplishment no African team has achieved.
By Ryan Gregory | @Ryan_Gregory_