KIGALI, RWANDA -- Cameroon's Forces Armées et Police [FAP], the only surprise package out of the four Basketball Africa League [BAL] semifinalists, will again have to punch above their weight if they're to beat Petro de Luanda on Wednesday.
FAP used a shock defeat to the Cape Town Tigers in the Nile Conference in Cairo to inspire an upset of Rwanda Energy Group (REG) in the quarterfinals this weekend in Kigali.
Coach Francois Enyegue said: "The Cape Town Tigers defeat was a very big lesson to us. In basketball, you learn every day.
"One of the strengths of the FAP team is the positive energy, which is one of the fundamentals in basketball -- you have to be very positive.
"In all the teams taking part in this competition, FAP is one of the [few] teams who have never lost a [BAL] game while conceding 80 points [or more]."
Even if FAP are still a work in progress, they are undoubtedly the most improved team over the course of the BAL this year. After beginning Cairo's Nile Conference with a 77-60 win over Espoir Fukash, they were humbled 73-70 by rookies the Cape Town Tigers and their season was in tatters.
FAP subsequently lost 73-60 to Petro de Luanda, before beating Cobra Sport 71-64. Their final conference game saw the team lose 77-63 to Zamalek and they scraped their way into the playoffs, taking fourth place in the standings.
In the quarterfinals in Kigali this weekend, they faced playoff hosts REG. Against all odds, they managed a 66-63 win.
"The job's not finished. We still have more games and we still have enough to give. The job's not finished. Right now, we think about the next game," said 16-year-old power forward Ulrich Chomche in a post-match interview with ESPN.
A rematch with Angolan champions Petro is a daunting task, but the REG game showed they can mix solidity with taking the lead at key moments. This combination will be essential against a Petro side featuring in-form former Toronto Raptors player Carlos Morais and other experienced heads.
"I think the first order of business is that we're going to have to play defence. Everything starts with the defence and that's what FAP is known for, that's what we pride ourselves on," said center Tyjhai Byers in the press conference after the REG win.
"Defence, rebounds, the smart decisions -- I think we have to win the turnovers and make smart decisions... We have to set the tone on defence.
"Petro is going to come out very aggressive. We know who they have. We know how they like to run and they're going to come out firing. We've got to match the energy, bring the same tone and make the same statement... Defence is where all this is going to start."
The teams are set to tip off at 18:00 CAT [12 noon ET] on Wednesday in the first semifinal, while Zamalek will take on US Monastir later in the day.
The BAL airs on ESPN in Africa and on ESPN+ and ESPNNews in the US.