The 2016 Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges (UPAC) Basketball Championship final between University of Ghana (UG) and Accra Polytechnic will live long in the memory of basketball fans who joined the once in a lifetime party at courtside, or through the varied outlets of the fifth estate. After both teams dismissed respective opponents in their semi final games, the story lines of the final everyone wanted was rife.
Whether 2015 National Most Valuable Player Abdul “Varandah” Mutaleeb Alhassan could shackle UG’s penetrating Forward and Tournament Most Valuable Player nominee Muhaimin Guba. The undersized Guba had been in the wars prior to the final game and the sharp cuts on his right eye and elbow was testament to his legendary competitiveness which will make Kobe Bryant jealous. Power Forward Maxwell Mod’s battle in the paint with Accra Polytechnic Center Suleman Abubakar was another merry go around to look forward to.
Much like the big night of the noble art of self defense, the day started slowly with fans filtering onto the courtsides of UG’s Center Courts. On the final day of Ghana’s biggest tertiary basketball competition, the final round of grading the final four tipped off with the best of the Polytechnic sect facing off on Court One with the best of the University sect doing same on Court Two. Accra Polytechnic took on Takoradi Polytechnic knowing their undefeated run in the competition since its’ inception in 2011 was halted by UG just a day earlier.
Takoradi Polytechnic who go by the moniker “The Oilers”-as they hail from Ghana’s Oil City Takoradi-took the fight to their more accomplished contemporaries by exchanging leads. However, the class and quality of Accra Poly eventually began to show as they pulled away winning 55-41 eventually. Head Coach Lawal Braimah pulling out starmen Farahat Tamimu and Abdul Mutalib “Verandah”Alhassan for much of the fourth quarter certainly made his intentions clear. UG, on the other hand made a mouthful of what many saw as a straight forward win for the only side to beat Accra Poly in the championship’s history.
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) despite missing key players including Kwame Akrasi to injury, made the most of a shabby start by UG to stay in touch with the host team. A simple tactical move by UG Coach Meme Falconer had backup Centers Anthony Obika and Uchenna Uchegbu play in the front court alongside top shot blocker Paul Nsakie. Their presence had UG pound KNUST in the paint which KNUST countered successfully by getting things done beyond the arc.
However, KNUST are no Golden State Warriors and soon, some shots rolled off the rim giving UG a narrow 49-47 win and setup a rematch of the Group A quarter final clash with Accra Polytechnic. Defeated semi finalists KNUST and Takoradi Polytechnic played for the bronze medal in the curtain raiser third place game. The Oilers fell 42-49 to KNUST to mark the third straight defeat to the Kumasi side in the competition dating back to last year’s quarter final game.
So after 10 weeks touring various spots in Ghana like Tamale, Cape-Coast, Kumasi and Sunyani, going through multiple rounds of qualifiers, UG and Accra Poly were the last two of 28 tertiary institutions left to battle for the ultimate prize. A scrappy, dull game turned into all out action packed affair as both teams snapped out of their funk to play the beautiful hoops game they are known to play. UG in particular, looked a completely changed side after the Vandals of Common Wealth Hall invaded courtside amidst heavy drumming, singing and dancing.
The cagey encounter had UG take a 11 point lead as a visibly tired Farahat fouled out of the game. His exclusion surprisingly sprang A Poly to life as they held their own against UG particularly on defense as the Small Forward/ Guard had a hard time keeping up with Muhaimin Guba, Joshua Akai and Joel Tham. Another twist happened to increase the anxiety as UG Forward Maxwell Mod also fouled out a bit short on big men.
However, Nsakie stepped up his production as he punctuated a brilliant defensive showing with a flurry of blocks in a single possession. Not to be left out of the block party, Mutalib Alhassan unleashed a pair including a tournament worthy block on an Akai fast break layup attempt. Akai gathered the loose ball to score and give UG a three point lead which got cancelled out with a three point shot from Emmanuel Lamptey. Abdul Mutalib got the go ahead buckets from the free throw line to make the score 44-42 for A Poly. With 14 seconds left on the clock, Shooting Guard Emmanuel Wolff scored a deep three pointer to put UG in the lead once again with 7 seconds remaining.
However, the game ended in a controversial manner when Accra Polytechnic Center Emmanuel Agyapong got called for an offensive foul for setting an illegal screen. The screen looked clean as Agyapong stood his ground before UG’s veteran Point Guard Akai run into him which gifted UG the chance to run down the clock and seal a famous victory.
A game befitting of a final had everything; from the “Jama” battle between the Vandals of UG and Zulu Community of Accra Polytechnic, to the controversies and a late bucket, the 2016 UPAC Final will long in the echelons of Ghana basketball.