KENYA : Laiser Hill draw the first blood
National basketball champions Maseno School began their title defence poorly when they lost 73-50 to old foes Laiser Hill Academy in the opening match of this year’s Brookside Kenya Secondary Schools Term One Games at Kakamega High on Tuesday.
In another Pool “A” match, Kangaru School from Eastern Province edged out Alliance High School 47-45. It was a repeat of that nail-biting final at Upper Hill that saw Maseno pip Laiser Hill 54-52 to the title, only that this time Paul Otula’s boys failed to produce that sparkling display.
Trailing by just eight points going into the final quarter, Maseno were reduced to spectators as the mercurial East Africa schools champions suddenly began scooping easy baskets from all angles.
Maseno completely lost composure and the game quickly slipped from their grasp. One minute they were contemplating a famous win, the next they were reduced to damage control.
“We didn’t move the ball well enough at times to get the open looks that we wanted,” said Otula after the match.
Bubbling with confidence
“Our game plan was to pound the ball inside. But unfortunately, we took our eye off the basket. I told the guys at half-time that we needed to be ready to drop a few more shots out there but we never really did that.”
Laiser Hill, coached by Thomas “Smarts” Olugo, were bubbling with confidence from the moment they got to the court, and were greeted by a lively crowd.
Laiser Hill supporters are among the noisiest in the country and it could have been more intimidating for Maseno if the match had been staged in Kajiado.
Their side responded with a blistering start and stormed to an early 15-11 lead in the first quarter. But Maseno refused to be bullied and slowly began regaining lost ground.
Led by the predatory Jeremy Opiyo - who contributed 14 points and six rebounds - and solid work from Tombush Wamukoya and George Okoth, Maseno somehow dragged themselves back into contention against all odds. Samuel Opel also brought his trademark athleticism and eye for the half chance to bear.
At the break, Laiser Hill were 33-23 up as Elijah Bior, with a match-winning 25 points, found his range with a brilliant pair of three-pointers at the start of the third quarter.
But the splendid Opiyo shot a crucial three-pointer for Maseno as the gap closed back to eight.
But this did not sweep the leading side out of their stride, as the regional champions swiftly moved back to their 10-point advantage, 51-41, as Reuben Mutoro sank a pair of free-throws before the end of the third quarter.
Bior, a standout player in the match, relaunched Laiser Hill’s fourth quarter charge with a barrage of shots as the side’s experience at this level began to show while Maseno coiled with some costly turnovers.