Can Gasana and the Patriots slay the Monastir beast?

THE veteran experience in the Patriots Basketball Club played a significant role in carrying the club to the semi-final stage of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) tournament in Kigali, Rwanda.

Led by their veteran guards, Kenny Gasana and Aristide Mugabe, the Patriots survived a rollercoaster quarter-final against Ferroviario de Maputo on Thursday night.

Kenny Gasana
Patriots’ Kenny Gasana played a huge role against Ferroviario. Pictures: FIBA

Reflecting on the game against the Mozambicans, Gasana paid homage to team captain, Mugabe. American-born Gasana was the game’s MVP, scoring 23 points and notching five rebounds, Mugabe scored 18 points. Mugabe chipped in with four clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first one helped close in on the Ferroviario (60-61), and the other three helped the Patriots pull away.

“Aristide was huge for us. He hit some big shots. You talked about his experience. He has been there before. He has played a lot of big games on the local and international stage. So did not shy away from the moment. He was ready for it,” said Gasana.

The former Boise State player did have a few nervous moments in the final minutes from the free-throw line.

“I was a little mad at myself for missing the free throw. Before that, I shot the free throw pretty well throughout the game. I maybe was just a little rusty,” said Gasana. “I knew with the situation they did not have any time-outs. So, I was able to make a free throw. It put a little pressure on them to make a three-pointer to try and win the game.”

The game ended 73-71 in favour of the Patriots. The intensity of the encounter must have extracted a heavy toll. While it may be the case, Gasana and his teammates will have to dig deep into their energy reserves as a familiar foe lies in wait.

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US Monastir is as close to a perfect team comes, in this tournament. From the group stages right through to the quarter-finals, the Tunisians have taken no prisoners.

The Patriots will know as they were no match against the North African club in the group stages. In this semi-final battle the Rwanda club will know what to expect. The 36-year-old Gasana said his team has to concentrate against the well-oiled Monastir machine.

“We need to be focused. Monastir is a veteran team. Everyone has experience. They are not going to beat themselves. We can’t rely on them to make mistakes as well. We have to execute our game plan to the best of our abilities,” said the Rwanda international.

The Patriots, like most teams going into this tournament, had very little match practice and trying to beat a Monastir team that has had a basketball season is a tall task. Gasana pointed that the circumstances under COVID-19 meant that caution needed to be applied.

“It’s a different time. The situation has been difficult. We are dealing with COVID. Very few teams have had a season in their respective countries. Here in Rwanda, we have not had a season since October/November,” said San Antonio-born Gasana. “So the guys have been training. It would have helped if we had some games to help us compete. That’s the situation for eight or nine teams that competed here. We can’t make any excuses now. We have to be ready.”

Kenny Gasana
Kenny Gasana and the Patriots have to overcome a well-oiled Monastir team.

The Patriots must overcome the hurdle of Monastir. They are close to the final and with the trophy in sight this should raise their hunger levels.

“Our focus when we came into the tournament was to win every game we played. We take it one game at a time. From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, we want to play,” said Gasana. “We did a huge thing by making it to the top four. But that’s not the end goal. We don’t want to make it only into the top four. We want to compete and raise that trophy.”

If they have any chance of raising the inaugural BAL trophy, the Patriots will have to out-fox a team highly touted. With a passionate home crowd behind them and the spotlight firmly fixed on them, it will be hard for Patriots to shy away from this moment.

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